Experts cite depression in rise of Tanzania suicide cases

Experts say, depression is the most common factor that leads to the decision to commit suicide. Photo | File

What you need to know:

Many factors are said to lead to a decision to commit suicide. Psychologists say it usually is an act made during a storm of strong emotions and life stresses rather than after careful consideration. Severe depression is the most common factor. It happens when a person is feeling so much emotional pain that they see death as the only way to relieve that pain.

Dar es Salaam. News of three police officers who took their lives within 48 hours recently shook the nation. The incidents happened in Tabora, Morogoro and Serengeti.

Two of the three incidents are said to have happened as a result of relationships gone sour while the third resulted from a long illness.

Before the dust settled, it was reported in the media that a form six leaver had committed suicide a few days before the Form Six results were out. He feared his results would be bad. A similar incident occurred in early May, just a day before Form Six students sat their final exams. A Form Six student’s body was found hanging on a tree near his school in Bukoba.

On July 23, the country woke to the news of a 50-year-old business man in Geita who was found dead in a guest house. He is believed to have shot himself.

These are just a few examples of suicide cases that have happened recently. When someone commits suicide, we all ask ourselves what could have led to the fatal decision.

But why do people kill themselves?

Many factors are said to lead to a decision to commit suicide. Psychologists say it usually is an act made during a storm of strong emotions and life stresses rather than after careful consideration. Severe depression is the most common factor. It happens when a person is feeling so much emotional pain that they see death as the only way to relieve that pain.

The 28-year-old police constable in Serengeti District who shot himself in the head left a suicide note explaining that he had killed himself because of the pain he suffered following a misunderstanding with his lover.

A Dar es Salaam-based psychologist, Sadaka Saidi, says people commit suicide when they lose hope. She says when someone loses hope, the first option that comes to mind is death. Without proper counseling, the psychologist says it is easy for such a person to end their life.

Her claim is backed by studies that have found that hopelessness contributes to the decision to commit suicide. This happens when a person may be facing a social or physical challenge and sees no way of improving the situation. While an outside observer may feel that things will get better, a depressed person may not be able to see this due to the pessimism and despair that go along with depression.

A person may also decide to commit suicide when facing a loss or the fear of a loss. Losing a job for example, ending a romantic relationship, academic failure and losing social position among others.

According to the World Health Organisation, 800,000 people in the world commit suicide every year. Many others attempt suicide.

Statistics obtained from the police indicate that between January and June in 2017, 88 civilians and three police officers committed suicide. In 2018, during the same period, 114 civilians and five police men killed themselves.

Although people wonder why people kill themselves, more questions arise when police officers shoot themselves. And it is even worse when three officers do so within a week.

Police spokesperson, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), Barnabas Mwakalukwa says there are many reasons why police officers and other people commit suicide. Marriage and love affairs are the commonly reported causes. Others include long illness, low wages, poverty and loss of loved ones.

“People might be wondering why police officers use guns to commit suicide. It is because guns are part of their working tools,” explains Mwakalukwa, adding; “Committing suicide is not a solution to depression. In most cases, police officers decide to shoot themselves when they are stressed because they fail to cope with problems affecting them.”

A psychiatry and mental health specialist at Muhimbili National Hospital, Dr Saidi Kuganda describes depression as a situation of misery or a severe despondency.

To overcome depression, the doctor says one has to first understand the condition. In simple terms he says; “depression is your mind telling your body that it is tired.” Dr Kuganda says many people don’t understand depression, which could be the reason they decide to commit suicide.

United States of America’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) associates depression with a variety of distressing life situations including early childhood trauma, the death of a loved one, financial troubles or a divorce. Most likely, NIMH says, depression is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors.

Dr Kuganda says although depression requires medical treatment at times, the best medicine he says is talking. People need to share their problems with others.

Mariam Simba,38, and her two children are alive today because she shared her problems with her friend. The resident of Boko had planned to kill herself and her children following her husband’s betrayal.

She was depressed when her husband of 17 years brought a second wife home. Before she committed murder, she shared her problem with a friend who advised her to seek advice from Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TGNP).

At TGNP, Mariam not only received counselling but she also acquired entrepreneurship skills. She separated from her husband and lives happily with her children today.

Mwakalukwa the police spokesperson says given the nature of their job, the police force usually holds stress management sessions for its officers. The aim is to equip them with skills to handle stress at work, in relationships and the likes. This is done to enable officers perform their duties in good health both physically and mentally.

“We have introduced health service units in several police stations with qualified psychologists to talk to police officers on depression and other health issues,” ACP Mwakalukwa says. The officers are free to visit the units at any time if they feel they need help.

Another intervention in place involves using long serving officers to talk to the juniors on matters related to depression, lifestyle and the challenges and opportunities of being a police officer and life in general.

Depression knows no boundaries. It can affect anyone at any time regardless of age or socioeconomic status. Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania Pastor in Kigogo, Rev Richard Hanaja too suffered depression.

“Depression does not choose who to attack. It can affect a pastor like me or even a psychologist,” the pastor says. Depression got the best of him after he lost four brothers in succession.

Long after their parents had died, his brothers, died, one after the other. The pastor was left all alone and the sorrow was too much to bear. However, Pastor Hanaja says nothing is permanent. Being positive and hopeful helped him a lot. He advises that no matter how difficult things may seem to be, people should always let go, leave the past behind and dwell on the present.

The pastor believes people commit suicide because they do not share their problems. Like Dr Kuganda, he stresses on seeking advice when in distress. The pastor blames society for not helping out. He thinks society has a role to play in helping depressed people.

Studies show that people who are deeply engaged in religion are less likely to get depressed than those who are less attached to religion.

Dr Kuganda agrees saying religion gives people hope and the power of healing in any situation. He says a religious person is less likely to contemplate suicide.

“It is true that religion can reduce stress. Religion also has the power to help people make good decisions,” says the psychiatrist. Perhaps this is why the police force has decided to involve the clergy.

According to Mwakalukwa, the Inspector General of Police, Simon Sirro has come up with a strategy aiming at creating a close relationship between the officers and religious leaders. This will enable officers to share issues affecting them with religious leaders. In Mwanza recently, the police gathered together with religious leaders for the same purpose. The IGP was also present.

Mwakalukwa advises police officers to be religious and always consult religious leaders when they have problems. He advises them to also socialize to avoid stress. Dr Kuganda says it is unfortunate that the country does not have enough professionals to deal with depression.

“The country lacks clinical psychologists who are trained to deal with depression. We currently have 10 to 15 countrywide,” says Dr Kuganda.