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Mental Health: WHO launches campaign to prevent suicide in Africa

by Haruna Gimba

By Asmau Ahmad

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has launched a campaign to raise awareness and spur action for suicide prevention in the African region, which according to it, has the world’s highest rates of death by suicide.

According to it, around 11 people per 100,000 per year die by suicide in the African region, higher than the global average of nine per 100,000 people.

This is due in part to insufficient action to address and prevent the risk factors, including mental health conditions which currently affect 116 million people, up from 53 million in 1990, a statement by WHO says.

Consequently, ahead of World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10, WHO launched a social media campaign aimed at reaching 10 million people across the region.

It is to raise public awareness and galvanise the support of governments and policymakers to increase focus and funding for mental health programming, including suicide prevention efforts.

Such efforts include equipping health workers to better support those dealing with suicidal thoughts, educating people who may experience these thoughts on where to go for help.

As well as sensitising the public on how to identify and help those in need and to help tackle the stigma associated with suicide, epilepsy, mental health conditions and alcohol and drug abuse.

The 2022 World Mental Health Day is being marked under the theme “Make Mental Health and Well-Being for All a Global Priority.”

It is to draw attention to the importance of mental health care and the need for better access to health services.

WHO says the African region is home to six of the 10 countries with the highest suicide rates worldwide.

According to it, the common means of suicide in the region are hanging and pesticide self-poisoning and to a lesser extent drowning, use of a firearm, jumping from a height or medication overdose.

Studies show that in Africa for each completed suicide, there are an estimated 20 attempted ones.

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said: “Suicide is a major public health problem and every death by suicide is a tragedy. Unfortunately, suicide prevention is rarely a priority in national health programmes.

“Significant investment must be made to tackle Africa’s growing burden of chronic diseases and non-infectious conditions such as mental disorders that can contribute to suicide.

“Mental health is integral to wholesome health and well-being yet far too many people in our region who need help for mental health conditions do not receive it. It’s time for radical change.

“Ongoing efforts by countries should be reinforced and broadened to make mental health care a public health priority in the African region,” Moeti said.

Mental health problems account for up to 11 per cent of the risk factors associated with suicide.

In Africa, underinvestment by governments is the greatest challenge to adequate mental health service provision.

On average governments allocate less than 50 US cents per capita to mental health. Although it is an improvement from 10 US cents in 2017, it is still well below the recommended $2 per capita for low-income countries. Additionally, mental health care is generally not included in national health insurance schemes.

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