Rose Uwimana, 21, (not real name), who lives in Kigali, recently tried to take her own life. By God’s grace, Uwimana’s life was saved by residents who rushed her to the hospital where she was diagnosed with an intoxicated drink she had taken in an attempt to commit suicide.
Apparently, the attempted suicide was related to domestic issues.
Suicide is an extremely distressing event that can have profoundly disruptive effects on the family, friends and communities of the deceased. It is defined as the act of intentionally killing oneself.
Medical experts say that suicide is a tragedy not only for the victim but also for the surviving family and friends, who may experience trauma expressed through feelings of grief, emptiness, guilt, failure or shame.
A pertinent question in Uwimana’s case is; why would a young girl of just 21 years try to end her life?
According to Dr Alfred Ngirababyeyi, a specialist psychiatrist at CARAES Ndera Neuropsychiatric Hospital, suicide is an “unfortunate act with purpose, but preventable.”
“There are several causes of attempts to commit suicide but common among them are psychotropic substance misuse such as cannabis, excessive and addictive alcoholism; personality disorders, and history of victimisation,” says Dr Ngirababyeyi.
Indeed, some of the people admitted at Ndera Neuropsychiatric Hospital and other rehabilitation centres are drug addicts, whose mental disorder caused by drugs, can influence their decision to commit suicide, if not helped, according to Dr Ngirababyeyi.
Medical experts also say that suicide can occur as a result of mental disorders such as schizophrenia (mental disorder that is characterised by a wide range of unusual behaviour, like hearing voices (hallucinations) and distorted or false perception, often bizarre beliefs, mood disorders and depression.
Other causes may include a sense of hopelessness and presence of impulsive – aggressive traits, and family conflicts.
According to 2015 World Health Organisation (WHO) report, total number of people with depression was estimated to exceed 300 million globally.
In Rwanda, at least 12 people committed suicide since the beginning of this year.
“Fighting and prevention of use of illicit drugs and other causes, and early treatment and rehabilitation of patients can go a long way in preventing such extreme tendencies,” Dr Ngirababyeyi said.
Ngirababyeyi, however, says that some attempts only stop at treating the patient but don’t address the underlying causes of attempted suicide.
“Suicidal ideas, threats and attempts must always be taken seriously because about one-third of people who try to commit suicide will try it again within one year,” he said.
Ngirababyeyi said at least 10 per cent of people who threaten or try to commit suicide will eventually kill themselves, adding that about 90 per cent are related to psychiatric disorders.
“Patients need psycho-social therapy after treatment to address the initial causes of any attempt to terminate their life.”
Although there are no clear statistics of suicide cases triggered by drug abuse, Theos Badege, the Police spokesperson, said: “It is unfortunate that people commit suicide under different circumstances. We continue to appeal to the public to partner with police and even medical practitioners to prevent anything that can influence such, and to ensure that those who try to end their lives, get medical care as soon as possible.”
Medics say such psychotropic substances affects one’s thinking and influences them to act contrary.
Badege maintained that even when someone has been wronged in one way or another, taking one’s life is not a solution to the problem but an addition, adding that there are institutions, including Police, local authorities and courts, where complaints can be heard and handled, rather than ending a life.
He emphasises active participation in community social programme – Umugoroba W’ababyeyi – where security, socio-economic and cultural issues are also raised and addressed.
Role of society
On what the community can do, the mufti believes society has the keys to stopping such suicide attempts by fighting anything that can influence it.
“In Islam, this is why we don’t allow alcohol which can be a motivating factor to take one’s own life, because alcohol and other substance impair the mind hence aiding absurd choices,” said Sheikh Habimana.
“These are issues that family and neighbours should and can immediately address,” the mufti said.
Dr Ngirababyeyi, who has over 10 years experience as a psychiatrist, said communities need to beware of indicators that may lead to suicide, to make primary interventions like taking the person to trained psychiatrists or help support efforts to successfully address potential causes.
“As with other illnesses like heart disease and cancer, suicide cannot be prevented by prayer alone. Medical treatment is the answer God provides to our prayers. Societies such as faith-based organisation should preach against such and also need specialised people to be able to provide primary counseling,” says Dr Ngirababyeyi.
Rwandan culture control
The Rwandan culture, like other organised communities have inherent traditional practices that discourage suicide
According to 81-year-old Francois Furere, from Kinyinya Sector of Gasabo District, traditionally, no decent burial, dignity or any form respect would be accorded to someone who takes their life.
“Mourning would barely take place in such a family and in some cases the body would be humiliated,” Frere reminisced.
He added that the practice was intended to minimise tendencies to take precious lives.
“Traditionally, suicide is viewed as an act of cowardice,” said Furere.
He likened it to disciplinary norms in police or military where an officer, who takes their life, is not accorded respect and honour even at burial.