Publish Date: 14 June 2017

Combating Suicide in Namibia

I was 14 years old, it was early one Saturday morning when I walked in my parents’ room to find my father lying on his bed – he had committed suicide and there was no note. For months before the incident we realized that he was getting more and more depressed and while my mother encouraged him to see a therapist – he refused. See my father was raised that ‘boys don’t cry’ and throughout his entire life he kept by that motto.

After serving in the war, as a medic, he saw so many bad things – yet he never spoke of it. Instead he would sit by himself every New Year’s Eve memo-rating the fallen soldiers never speaking a word of who they were and what they meant to him.

During the last couple of months leading up to his death he was on medication, but things were getting worse. He hardly spoke to us. He would get home at night, anxiously waiting for my mom to finish dinner, just so that he could go to bed. He use to stare into space alone with his own thoughts, and while my mother encouraged him to speak to her, or anyone for that matter, but nothing worked.

Since then I’ve caught myself numerous times trying to imagine or figure out what went through his head and what was so bad in his life that he decided to end it all? The suicide truly took its toll on my family – and from that day on wards our lives would never be the same.

For years afterwards I hardly spoke about it, because for some reason it is still a rather taboo topic in Namibia. Instead of talking about it or saying something I’ve sat idly by while hundreds of Namibians take their lives on an annual basis.

I recently decided to stop hiding away from the topic or even the incident and started doing some research into the suicide rate of Namibia – and I was shocked to learn that Namibia has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. In fact the Namibian average is 22.5 per 100,000 while the global average is 16 per 100,000.

While suicide is a serious problem in Namibia you do not see nearly as many awareness campaigns than you do with other issues like Abuse, Gender Based Violence, Road Safety, etc. I wonder if the topic was more openly discussed and accepted by the public, if my father would have had the courage to speak up and get the help he so desperately needed.

For years Namibian citizens have suffered in silence and many have reached a point where they no longer see any other option than to take their own lives. While conducting my research I also found that of all Namibian suicides 84% are men, 16% women and 14% teenagers. What does this mean, are our men more depressed than women, or do the women simply seek for help sooner than the men? In recent years leading up to today, I personally knew 3 men who committed suicide since 2013.

This to me is a rather interesting find. If you look at how my dad was raised and the way so many other men are raised in our country, believing men don’t cry – it is no wonder that the men in Namibia are either too proud or too scared to admit that they have a problem and seek help.

Further research found that the majority of suicides in Namibia are due to the economical state of the country, unemployment, poverty, health problems, etc. This still does not explain to the family left behind why the person decided to make that decision. See my dad was employed at the time, earning an average wage, he had no serious health or marital problems, and the economy was rather stable – so what else could have driven him to do what he did?

The sad reality about Namibia is that we know on average how many people commit suicide; however we have no real understanding about the number of individuals who suffer from depression or other (mental) health issues or have attempted to commit suicide. So how can we possibly try to understand and help resolve this problem?

When suffering from depression the world is an entirely different place compared to if you’re not a depression sufferer. Depression suffers often feel alone, like there is no one to talk to, or no one who would understand – but this is not really the case. Deep down these people know that there are people to talk to, but they struggle with deeper fears, like what if they are judged, what if the person no longer loves them, what if they lose their job, there are hundreds of factors that could influence why a person feels alone and isolated. My dad, for example, was surrounded with friends and family who constantly reached out to him to try and help, yet he chose not to take the help but suffer in silence. So what do you do if there is no one you feel you can talk to?

It is important that we start realizing that suicide and depression is a real problem in Namibia and over the past couple of years the annual suicide rates have continued to increase – so is it not time we start the conversation to see what we can do or implement to help those around us? I know it’s too late for my dad, but there are a lot of other fathers out there who are sitting at the same cross roads as mine, and isn’t it time we lend out a helping hand?

While it would be easy to say that these individuals should start a Facebook Group or visit their local church, or even a therapist – it is important to consider why our men are not reaching out for help? Are they afraid that their friends and families would see them as week willed individuals? Are they afraid to be seen as failures? Are they so ashamed of their actions or circumstances that they do not feel it safe to share with anyone?

What if there was an online platform that provided anonymous online counseling allowing those who need it to seek out help and guidance? Just imagine that such a platform could be used by those suffering from depression, individuals who have been abused, raped (another big problem in our country), and suffered under Gender Based Violence, the list is endless. It could mean that we could provide online counseling to individuals in the most rural areas of Namibia.

I did a quick search and found several platforms which offers online counseling, yet most of them require the individual to pay a set fee. While this is a great way to run a profitable business, I feel that such platforms and resources should be made freely available to the public and be dealt with by Non-profit Organizations.

The user should be able to access the portal anonymously and connect with a trained and registered therapist whose only goal is to provide as much assistance to the user as possible.

By providing a platform that ensures for anonymous support any individuals, male or female, will hopefully feel safe enough to seek out for help and guidance. While this platform should be anonymous, very useful data can be collected from such a portal to give the us more insight as to what the real reasons for depression is in Namibia, it can also start to give us insight into various other cases like abuse, assault, gender based violence, and rape. Insights that could help us better understand those in need, and provide them with the help they truly deserve.

After all those years I still have no idea why my dad decided to take his own life, while he was surrounded by loved ones trying to help he felt like his problems could not be shared. I want to believe that my father would have reached out for help if he was able to do it anonymously, because I know that he loved us dearly and if he had other options he would explore them before leaving us behind.

While I still have no real clue as to why my dad decided to do what he did, I have learned that everything in life happens for a reason and while not all life lessons are positive or pleasant to go through it does make you a stronger person and shapes the person you are today.

My dad demonstrating how adults can still play like children.

Additional Sources
Below are all the sources that I mentioned throughout my article as well as a couple of additional sources worth mentioning: -