Rwanda: Suicide Rates On the Rise - Can the Trend Be Reversed?

15 September 2019

Scolastique Hatangimana's decision to take her own life by jumping off the fourth floor of M Peace plaza in Kigali's business district shocked many, sparking a social media frenzy in which many condemned the act.

Sadly, Hatangimana died succumbing to the injuries she sustained.

Her case could be a worrying reminder that there are more people in the country considering similar actions due to various problems.

A fortnight ago, in Rubavu District it was reported that the police were alerted by residents to come to the rescue of a man who had threatened to take his own life after a fallout with his wife.

With the latest World Health Organisation (WTO) figures showing that one person dies every 40 seconds, suicide is the second leading cause of death in young people between 15-29 years after road injury. The statistics mean that suicide-related death is 800,000 every year

More alarming is that 79 percent of the recorded suicide cases happen in low and middle-income countries.

WHO says because suicide has now emerged to be one of the leading non-communicable causes of death, the organization has decided to dedicate the world mental health day marked on 10th October every year to the prevention of suicide.

Here in Rwanda, we were unable to collect the latest figures as responsible institutions were reluctant to avail them.

Who is at risk?

Recent research shows that the strongest risk factor for suicide is a previous suicide attempt.

While the link between suicide and mental health disorders is well established, it is very difficult for one with no background in mental health to tell.

Emmanuelle Mahoro, a local Phycologist said that mental disorders that may lead someone to commit suicide include loneliness, trauma, depression, lack of hope and interest in life but to tell one is having such conditions is still a challenge to the general public.

Mahoro added that this inability of the general public to identify the victims and be able to encourage them to seek assistance from mental health professionals is increasing the chances of having more cases.

"Suicide is not a one-day event, it takes time for someone to decide and because the community is unable to identify these cases when they are still toddler stage it exacerbates the situation," she said.

In addition to this, Charles Mudenge, a Psychiatrist, says it is difficult to find a specific cause of suicide since, at his knowledge, there is no local research that has been conducted.

He adds that mental health issues are crosscutting, not specific to genocide survivors though some are related.

"There is no explicit factor in our society that leads people to commit suicide because mental problems are crosscutting and it's not a problem to only genocide survivors, but trauma can still be a significant cause," he said.

The mental health status-quo and way forward.

According to the 2018 Rwanda Mental Survey, 223,500 Rwandans sought mental health consultations in public hospitals in 2018.

The prevalence rate of depression stood at 11.9 percent and 35.6 percent were genocide survivors meaning that one in three genocide survivors faces trauma. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder primacy stands at 3.6 percent.

As a way forward, psychologists recommend that whenever someone is found trying to commit suicide, getting them to the hospital for further help is the best support to offer.

A police station might be also a relevant direction because they offer some helping services such as at Isange One-Stop Center.

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