ABUJA – The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, has declared globally a life is lost every 40 seconds to suicide, saying almost four out of five suicides occur in low and middle-income countries.
World Mental Health Day celebrated on 10 October provides an opportunity to unite across the African Region and globally, for better well-being.
The 2019 celebration focuses on suicide prevention.
He urged everyone to consider measures that can be adopted to improve mental health in communities and reduce suicide cases.
This was contained in her message to commemorate this year’s World Mental Health Day, saying member states can facilitate multi-sectoral collaboration, including limiting access to pesticides, firearms and certain medications and strengthening policies to reduce the harmful use of alcohol.
According to her, the health sector should also train non-specialized workers to assess and manage suicidal behaviour to identify, treat and care for people with mental and substance use disorders, chronic pain and acute emotional distress.
She advocated for improved follow-up care for people who have attempted suicide, saying the education sector can implement school-based interventions to offer mental health support for adolescents.
Besides, she said researchers can conduct qualitative studies to identify culturally relevant risk factors and how they apply in different contexts just as the media is also tasked to report responsibly in line with WHO guidance, saying communities can contribute to reducing stigma and discrimination and providing supportive networks.
She said, “Together, we can reduce the number of suicide cases, tackle the stigma of mental illness and support each other for better well-being in our communities.
“In the African Region data are scarce and stigma is significant around suicide, but we know this is an important public health problem. Where data is available such as Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, and Lesotho, rates are higher than 20 suicides per 100 000 people each year. This is higher than in most European countries, China or the United States of America.
“In the African Region, WHO works with countries to integrate mental health services at the primary care and community levels, through the WHO Package of Essential Non-communicable Disease (PEN) interventions and with WHO Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP) training, so far conducted in Liberia, Nigeria, South Sudan and Uganda. “We also work with communities to address psychosocial needs in the aftermath of health emergencies.
“Yet we know that mental health is a chronically under-resourced area. For example, in Ethiopia, it is estimated that 20 million people have mental health issues, but only 10% have access to treatment and less than 1% receive specialized care.
“However, with community-based action, we can change this. Through the inaugural WHO Africa Innovation Challenge in 2018, I met Ephrem Bekele Woldeyesus, a social entrepreneur in Ethiopia. Ephrem started a weekly radio show on wellness, including mental health, to drive social change. He uses revenue from the radio show to subsidize mental health services for community members and is expanding into school-based mental and social health programmes.
“Home-grown, grassroots innovative solutions, like Ephrem’s, can lead to change in the lives of thousands of people. Another example is the Friendship Bench, which started in Zimbabwe and has been replicated in other African countries as well as New York City. The programme brings together older women, trained as lay health workers, to support people in need with problem-solving therapy”, she said.
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