Zimbabwe leads in youth suicide ideation, WHO reports

Zimbabwe has the highest prevalence of suicide ideation and self-harm among young people, as they often perceive death as a preferable option, World Health Organisation (WHO) Zimbabwe has said. 

This was revealed during the MindSKILLZ program which focuses on adolescent mental health promotion and prevention implemented by Pamumvuri Private Voluntary Organisation and Grassroot Soccer Inc. in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) and WHO. 

The program incorporates soccer games, discussions, and activities designed to promote self-awareness and self-regulation, communication and relationship skills, problem-solving and decision-making, emotional intelligence and resilience and goal setting among adolescents. 

The pilot program, set to launch in Bulawayo and Harare targets 3 500 adolescents between the ages of 10-19 years. 

Speaking during the meeting, WHO Zimbabwe Mental Health Technical Officer, Dr Debra Machando highlighted the prevalence of anxiety-driven self-harm practices among young people. 

“Zimbabwe has the highest rate of suicide ideation and self-harm,” she revealed. “You will find a lot of young who think that it is better to die or they want to relieve anxiety through self-harm in different ways.

She added: “You might find the young person with a lot of cuts under their sleeves or their bellies or on their thighs. Sadly, Zimbabwe is among the top 10 countries with the actual suicide rates among adolescents. If we talk about common mental health conditions like your depression, anxiety, and behavioural disorders, we again often lead to high rates of substance abuse and alcohol abuse,” she said. 

Dr Machando pointed out that Zimbabwe ranks among the top six countries in Africa countries for adult suicide rates. 

“The world is divided into six regions and we belong to the African region, out of the six regions globally the Africa region is number one not for best reason but for suicide, and Zimbabwe we are amongst the top six countries in the African region for suicide and this suicide is now amongst your adult population and seeing Pamumvuri and Grassroot Soccer coming in with an adolescent program we are actually teaching our young children to deal with problems and we hope that in the long term we will eventually reduce the rate of suicide amongst adults.” 

Highlighting the severity of the issue, Dr Machando noted that suicide ranks as the fourth leading cause of death among adolescents with one in seven 10-19 year olds experiencing a mental health condition. 

Dr Machando also said Zimbabwe is at the top of the charts for 15 –19-year-olds in the African region for binge drinking, “it could be the parties that we are reading about that could be causing all that.” 

“Sadly, our mental health expenditure is very low, for our country it is 0.42 percent. Our mental health workforce, in Africa is the lowest, we have the least number of mental health practitioners who can handle these problems,” she said 

Grassroot Soccer Inc. representative Happy Ncube underscored the program’s inclusive approach and its aim to provide tailored mental health promotion and prevention initiatives for adolescents. 

“We do not have a priority population, it is for everyone because we are saying we need to create a base, ensure that young people are equipped with knowledge and young people are equipped with skills that prepare them from being able to identify when they are not feeling okay and seek any service or any support. We strongly feel everyone should be made aware of what services are available around their communities,” she said. 

Ncube said the program will be implemented at a school set-up or within the communities. 

“We have seen the ripple effect of mental health on an individual itself where young people continue missing schools, indulge in risky behaviours because they really struggle on how they can cope because of the challenges that they are currently facing on them as individuals and the challenges being faced by the parents and the communities that they live in and we have seen the effect on the economy that adolescence mental health bring in.” 

Bulawayo Provincial Medical Director, Dr Maphios Siamuchembu said in the southern region of the country, the scourge of drug and substance abuse is worsened by the limited economic activities and opportunities. 

Dr Siamuchembu said the MindSKILLS intervention in Bulawayo is coming at an opportune time to address the health needs of our young people. 

“It is important that all government ministries, agencies, civil society and all community and private sector stakeholders come together and collaborate towards mental health interventions as we work towards the attainment of vision 2030,” he said. 

The founder of Pamumvuri PVO, Jacob Shamuyarira said they want to create content in local languages. 

“We would like to create content in our local languages as you have seen a lot of information that is being rolled out on various mental neurological and substance abuse issues is in different languages and foreign to us, we would like to create our terms, videos, content that is palatable within our communities. We would like to come in and work with various stakeholders,” said Shamuyarira. 

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