While residents continue to suffer the consequences of the economically disastrous Covid-19 lockdown of 2020 and 2021, cases of suicide in the province have increased by 90%, from 695 cases reported during the 2019/20 financial year to 1325 deaths reported since April 2020 to date.
In a reply to my written question to the MEC for Community Safety, Faith Mazibuko, it was revealed that the contributing factors to those choosing to end their life included depression, loss of income during the COVID-19 pandemic, financial difficulties, death of family members and domestic violence.
It is terribly sad to imagine what pain these vulnerable individuals had been going through to reach such a dark point in their life. Even survivors of suicide have disclosed that it is never an easy decision, and mostly one taken out of desperation to release themselves from the pain they have no way of eradicating.
What is even further disturbing is that the Gauteng Department of Social Development (DSD) has no specific programmes that directly tackle the increase in suicide rates.
In a reply to my written question to the MEC for Social Development, Morakane Mosupyoe, the department only has social workers who provide a broad range of social, emotional, behavioural, school and family interventions using methods of practice in communities and schools.
These include prevention and awareness programmes that mostly focus on building resilience of communities, learners, and youth such as Social Behaviour Change programmes, Parenting Programmes and Ke Moja Drug Prevention programmes. Further to this, the department provides psychosocial support services, screening, referrals and management of cases of affected learners and their families, while the provision of therapeutic interventions includes individual therapy for those with emotional and behavioural problems, individual counselling bereavement/grief support, and referrals for specialised services and support, group therapy, trauma debriefing and family therapy.
The department lastly stated that they provide crises interventions and rapid responses to deal with incidents such as learner deaths, child protection, abuse and neglect, trauma debriefing, bereavement, violence, depression, and attempted suicide.
While these services are the bare minimum that any social development department should provide, there is still an urgent need for government to formulate more programmes that are far more focused on the issues of suicide and mental illnesses. The stigma of these still exist in society and far too many people are suffering in silence and isolation.
The Gauteng DSD must embark on a more aggressive awareness campaign of what counselling and support services are available to those who are suffering. Many victims feel that there is no help within their reach, and therefore need to me made more aware of what services are available and where they can access them.
The Department can start off with making their website far more easily accessible through a simple Google search, as it is currently impossible to find any such website. Imagine how frustrating this must be for someone considering suicide, but still trying to seek help.
The Gauteng DSD website should have a dedicated page of all resources available to those suffering any form of mental illness, that includes the closest services available to them. When one is suffering through depression, it takes a profound amount of effort to try pull themselves out, and therefore it should not require so much effort to access the help they deserve.
Depression is the silent pandemic that has been ignored for far too long. If we are wanting to be a more caring and sympathetic society, we need to acknowledge and confront this pandemic head on.