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As Suicide Cases Rise, Malawi Moves to Tackle the Issue

FILE - Workers load the body of a man from a makeshift morgue into a vehicle at a in Lilongwe, Malawi, Feb. 21, 2023. Cases of suicide in the country have more than doubled in the past five years, police records show.

BLANTYRE — Police records show that for the past five years suicide cases in Malawi have jumped from 128 in 2018 to 292 last year.

Police statistics given to VOA show that the current suicide rate is at 11.6 per 100,000 people, higher than the global average of 10.5 per 100,000.

Peter Kalaya, a spokesperson for the Malawi Police Service, said the records show that more youths are committing suicide than older persons.

“And what topped the list are issues to do with disagreement in relationships such as marital problems. Even for young girls who killed themselves — most of the reasons were that of relationship issues for example, failing to accept that a relationship has ended.”

However, Kalaya said other people have killed themselves because of economic problems.

Charles Masulani, a mental health expert, said another contributing factor might be unrealistic parental expectations or negative parenting.

“There are a lot of parents that psychologically stress their children but also serious expectations; the child might be doing well at school but not performing well, the child, to run away from those problems, might also resort to commit suicide,” said Masulani.

A shortage of public mental health care is seen as a contributing factor to the problem.

Malawi, one of the poorest countries in Africa, has only one public mental hospital, Zomba Mental Hospital, and few privately-owed mental health facilities.

“While facilities are few, our mental health seeking behaviors are quite low because mental health in Malawi is stigmatized. So, let’s say if you are stressed up, for you to go to psychiatric hospital, you fear that people will say ‘Oh, he is mad.’ And the problem is quite huge, especially among men,” Masulani said.

Harry Kawiya, a clinical officer with the Zomba Mental Hospital in the Zomba district, said suicide cases are likely under reported.

“It is very difficult for us to have the actual prevalence rate of suicide because of our laws which take suicide as a crime. So, a lot of suicide [attempts] are happening but people are not reporting because of fear of being arrested,” said Kawiya.

The spokesperson for the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare in Malawi, Pauline Kaude, told VOA that rise in suicide cases is concerning.

Kaude said the government has developed several strategies to cope with the issue. One targets men who she says have faced gender-based violence but have been too shy to voice their problems. They encourage victims to seek support from service providers.

Kalaya says police, through their Victim Support Unit, work to educate people to seek psychosocial solutions whenever they face problems rather than resorting to killing themselves.