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NGO devises effective strategy to prevent suicide

It is a new dawn for Dar es Salaam residents who may be having mental health challenges. This is after a nongovernmental organisation takes steps to address mental health disorders and prevent suicide cases.

Tap Elderly Women’s Wisdom for Youth (TEWWY) is the name of the nongovernmental organisation (NGO) based in Dar es Salaam.

It focuses on preventing suicide cases in one of Africa’s fastest growing commercial capital cities. Speaking during the launch of the NGO’s website that addresses mental health complications after witnessing various suicide cases recently, TEWWY Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Founder Rustica Tembele said media reports on suicide incidences were increasing and there was a need to do something about it.

“Most cases reported involve the youth and few others middle-aged or elderly people,” she said.

She added that there was a need for the government to declare mental health disorders among the youth a national disaster so that mental health could be integrated in multispectral action (MSA) to prevent and control the disorders and consequently suicide.

She explained that there was no data on how big the situation was in Tanzania, but globally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggested that one person was committing suicide after every 40 minutes.

“WHO, therefore, suggests that over 800,000 people commit suicide a year,” she noted.

The call for MSA through declaring mental health disorders a national disaster, according to Ms Tembele, comes at a time reported suicide cases are taken softly in society for they mostly involve love affairs.

“When a suicidal case is reported, people ask if the cause is a love affair or an intimate relationship. Then, we end up judging the victims without taking into account that all this is due to unattended or treated mental health disorder.” Dr Isaack Lema is Chairperson of Mental Health Association of Tanzania (Mehata).

He says that WHO predicts that if mental health challenges are not adequately addressed, they will be among the main burden to world nations by 2030. Dr Isaack suggests that excessive alcohol consumption is one of the main causatives of mental health disorders and subsequently leading to suicide cases.

“People start drinking alcohol for leisure. Then, they become addicted in a sense that they can’t sleep or go to work without taking an alcoholic drink. After that, they shift to strong spirits and sometimes to unregulated local brews,” he says, stressing that this affects their lifestyles, ways of thinking and loving and frustrates them, leading to suicide.

Another causative of mental health disorders highlighted by Dr Lema is the use of intoxicants like drugs. Marijuana is one of them and most of the youth think using it makes them active and hardworking, while it is not.

He says these intoxicants give the victims short-term relief on some life issues and other challenges, later the habit plunges them into mental health disorders and as a result they end up committing suicide.

Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) in 2020 alone attended to 22,000 patients with mental health illnesses, according to the Mehata chairperson.

On why society has difficulties in detecting mental health symptoms, he says it is due to a change of worldview so much that some of the mental health disorder symptoms are now regarded as economic activities and it may take time to discover that the person doing such an activity is mentally disturbed.

“For example, filthy dressing and picking up cans and used plastic bottles is mostly considered an economic activity. Dressing in torn clothes or having uncombed hair is nowadays considered a new fashion,” he said, adding that the coming of online platforms like social media has put people at distance where everyone minds their own business more than social interaction.

Ms Tembele said in a short time TEWWY had reached out to a number of Dar es Salaam residents. It has done so in collaboration with the region’s health sector, which has set aside three centres in each municipal council for the purpose.

She said TEWWY had trained about 15 middle-aged women, dubbed wisdom and wellness counsellors who were reaching out to society members with mental health complications or at least those who were showing early signs of mental health disorders. The counsellors have basic skills of indentifying mental health challenges and best ways of intervening before the situation aggravates and leads to suicide.

“Where severe cases of mental health disorder are detected, the wisdom and wellness counsellors’ role is to ensure the patients get right treatment in hospital with qualified doctors.” Otherwise the youth need to access psychosocial support where they need to redefine their reasons for living, according to Ms Tembele.

The support includes life skills coaching on primary tasks like cooking, washing and cleaning premises. Others are to let them face raising and changing life situations like technologies or disasters (including diseases) with adequate complacency.

She says TEWWY reaches out to its clients with skills of viewing and going along with intergenerational gaps. Some people end up being frustrated and contemplate suicide due to lack of hope in economic or social settings. They include joblessness, disasters, diseases and loss of the loved ones.

To widen psychosocial innervations, Ms Tembele says TEWWY has launched an interactive website.

“The website has features of people to communicate with us, communicate efficiently, describe their conditions and may be reached out to easily in case some mental health symptoms are detected in the ways they communicate.”

She adds that some people may be shy in expressing their mental health deteriorating condition, but TEWWY uses anonymous identification so that they can be reached by their counsellors and what they share is confidential.

The TEWWY CEO is grateful to the government as there is a good gesture that the minister overseeing health issues has started addressing mental health challenges.

This move, she says, will see more people reached and the number of suicide cases will definitely drop. She said her organisation was using available resources to address mental health and suicide challenges.

The plan is to reach out to a wider population and influence other stakeholders to start giving this profession the importance it deserves.

Dr Mashombo Mkamba, a board member of Tanzania Network Against Alcohol Abuse (TAAnet) lamented over lack of an alcohol policy and strong laws to minimise laxity that he says contributes largely to putting at stake the youth, who are the nation’s main workforce and for economic development.

“We need an alcohol policy as a country which must state how and where alcoholic drinks are to be handled and traded. This trend of letting them available rampantly is in a way reversing the efforts of economic development,” he said.

Dr Kishombo warned that excessive alcoholic consumption among the youth as had been reported in different parts of Tanzania was to the detriment of development as the youth constituted the main part of workforce to the envisaged industrial economy

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