By: Andrew Kathindi, Rose Texeira
Clinical psychologist, Michelle McCullochon from Bel Esprit, a specialised mental health private hospital, says that the COVID-19 pandemic may have contributed to the high number of suicides recorded during the festive weekend.
Five suicides were reported by the Namibian police to have taken place between the 31st of December 2021 to the 2nd of January 2022, while another five suicides were reported by the police during the Christmas period.
“90% of the reasons would definitely be loss. After experiencing COVID-19 last year, especially the third wave, there was an immense number of losses that people were experiencing. Not just one loss, but two or three. So, there was an overwhelming amount of grief happening in our country,” McCullochon told The Villager.
She further said that the festive period is a time of celebrating and being with family, and hence this past season would have marked the first for many people without their loved ones.
“For a lot of people, it was their first festive period, Christmas and New Year, that they experienced without their loved ones. The first is always the most difficult.”
According to the latest update from the Namibian division of the World Health Organization (WHO), Namibia has recorded 3,655 COVID-19 deaths.
Of the 10 suicides recorded over the last two weekends, five occurred in small towns or rural areas and nine involved men.
Quizzed on what more could be done to raise mental health awareness in the rural areas, McCullochon said, “Unfortunately, that is one of the biggest battles that the psychology field is facing in Namibia.
“It’s not just about having easy access, a lot of people in the rural areas just don’t have the understanding and education on what mental illness and what the different symptoms are.”
She said that many living in rural areas don’t know that there is help that they can get for what they are feeling.
“This is a debate in the psychology field. How do we break down the stigma and reach out to people? We need to be talking about this more. Talking to someone who, maybe, has never heard of the word depression and giving them some education and that way, the word can spread in the rural areas.”
“On a large scale, we need to start campaigns and reach out to the government and do community projects to focus on mental health because after what happened last year, people will be struggling more with mental health.”
In the meantime, last year, the ministry of health and social services launched the Khomas Suicide Prevention Taskforce amidst a high number of suicides.