Toll-free helpline to curb suicides

Ten years ago the NGO behind the lifeline initiative, the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse, was the first to introduce the concept of telephone counselling for victims of spousal and child abuse. The service also provided legal and advice and medical assistance.

“In the old days, life was simpler, and people with problems could turn to their extended family – suicide was rare. Today, the traditional family cannot cope with modern pressures. There needs to be a place where depressed people can go for help,” said Nonhlanhla Dlamini, the action group’s director.

HIV/AIDS has been blamed as one of the main factors contributing to the climbing suicide rate. Swaziland, ruled by sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, has one of the world’s highest levels of HIV/AIDS infection: over 40 percent of sexually active adults are HIV positive.

“AIDS has been a culprit in many suicides, and with the rise in AIDS in Swaziland we have a corresponding rise in suicides. People with AIDS don’t wish to be a burden on their families, or else they are alone with no one to take care of them and they cannot cope,” said Dlamini.

The group also counsels families recently bereaved by the AIDS-related deaths of loved ones.

A front-page newspaper story this week reported the story of a nine-year-old boy’s attempted suicide. After a savage beating by his aunt, the child attempted to emulate his father, who hanged himself shortly after the boy’s mother died of AIDS. The child’s suicide bid was thwarted when the rope was wrestled away from him by his cousin.

“Such stories are common – people in despair need someone to talk to,” said Alicia Simelane, a counsellor with the health and social welfare ministry.

Royal Swaziland Police Force spokesperson Vusi Masuku said the police compiled suicide statistics, but had not yet done a comparative analysis of recent years to determine whether the suicide rate was increasing, or the media was fuelling the belief. However, he said his perception was that suicides were on the rise.

Poverty and the threat of unemployment were also driving up the level of suicide, Dalmini said.

Swaziland experienced double digit growth in the 1980s and 1990s. But since 2003, when the kingdom experienced a downturn in the economy, tens of thousands of jobs had been lost by one of the country’s main employers, the garment and textile industry.

The Central Bank of Swaziland has predicted a 1 percent growth in the gross domestic product for this year and next year, which is expected to fall again in 2008.

Trained counsellors will staff the helpline office around the clock in Manzini, Swaziland’s commercial hub, and more counsellors are being trained.

“This week we provided counselling service to a business that had an employee kill herself,” Dlamini said. “The staff felt guilty because they said they did not pay attention to the warning signs.” ‘ IRIN.

August 2006
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