Tanzania: Mental Illnesses Major Life Concern – Experts

Bukoba — AS the government strives to reduce incidents related to mental illnesses, experts have said that mental illness is proving to be a major life concern.

A 28-year old man (name withheld), a resident of Bukoba Municipality is alleged to have committed suicide for reasons that are yet to be established.

Bakoba Ward Councillor, Mr Hassan Saidi, said that the incident occurred on Monday at Nyakanyasi area.

“The reasons that made the young man to take his life are yet to be established. We reported the incident to the police officers who immediately arrived at the scene. The man used a piece of a bed sheet to hang himself in his room,” he said.

Meanwhile, 30 people are reported to have committed suicide for unknown reasons in Ngara District in 2020. Some of the deaths were related to jealousy and excessive drinking, while of 30 people who committed suicide 25 were men and five women.

Tanzanian psychiatrists, psychologists, sociologists and criminologists have expressed concern over the rapid increase of suicide cases in the country.

Statistics released by the Ministry of Home Affairs indicate that in the past five years a total of 3,420 people killed themselves in the country, 70 per cent being men.

The figures show that 2,464 men and 897 women took their lives in the period under review. Also some 59 children below 18 years killed themselves since 1995. According to the figures, an average of 684 people in the past five years committed suicide each year.

Most of suicide cases reported to police involved youth aged between 15 and 25 years, in which most school girls attempted to cut their lives short because of social problems and family wrangles.

Many people have no culture of consulting doctors when they are depressed. There is absolutely lack of awareness on the problem. Judgment of depressed people is normally impaired and this leads to self-destruction. According to psychologists, other major causes of suicide include changes in social relations, economic power, body image, unemployment, failure in examinations and the environment.

Sociology Lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam, Mr Egidius Kamanyi, attributed the increasing incidents to what he described as depressive illness and classified them as anxiety disorders, attention deficit, especially among children, bipolar illness (manic depression), long illness and unemployment.

“Attempted suicide, commonly referred to as para- suicide or deliberate self-harm, is defined as a non- fatal act in which an individual deliberately initiates a non-habitual behaviour that, without interventions from others, will cause self-harm, or deliberately ingests a substance in excess of the prescribed or generally recognised therapeutic dosage, and which is aimed at realising changes which the subject desires via the actual or expected physical consequences,” he said.

According to Tanzanian law, attempted suicide is a punishable offence. Para-suicide is a complex social behaviour with rich meanings and inter-actions that are deeply rooted in culturally patterned forms of thought and emotional behaviour.

Mental health services in Tanzania, like many other African countries, still face many challenges. This calls for various interventions to improve the services. Mental illnesses are very prevalent globally, with around 300 million people suffering from depression. Mental illnesses cause significant suffering to individuals and are associated with various social issues.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Tanzania mental health profile 2017 estimates the burden of mental illnesses in terms of disability-adjusted life years at 2,727.86 per 100,000 population and suicide-mortality rate at 5.4 per 100,000 population.

Researchers note that there is evidence in many cases to suggest that societal stigma around mental illness is partly responsible. A number of studies have indicated, for instance, that businesses are unwilling to employ people with a history of mental illness, even during periods of good health.

Low and middle-income countries (LMICs), including Tanzania, appear to bear much of this burden. Four out of five people suffering from mental disorders, such as depression and substance abuse, live in Low or Middle Income Countries.

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