The Sunday Mail
SUICIDE cases involving minors are worryingly on the increase since the coronavirus pandemic began.
The global health crisis has been as hard on children as it has been on adults.
Disruptions caused by the virus and the attendant lockdowns meant to contain it have been exacting a heavy toll on mental health.
Scientists believe the coronavirus has been accompanied by psychological suffering, fear, distress, anxiety, depression and other psychiatric disorders, including extreme suicidal thoughts among young adults.
Children between the ages of nine and 17 have been taking their own lives.
Drugs such as cocaine, crystal meth (guka/mutoriro), among others, are understood to be exacerbating an already bad situation.
While details on the number of minors that have died by their own hand could not be readily available last week, authorities are worried.
“We are worried about the surge in suicide cases of minors, so we are currently analysing the issues for us to come up with the correct statistics and related details,” said police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi in an interview with The Sunday Mail Society.
Interestingly, most suicides are reportedly being committed after the minor would have been reprimanded by their parents or guardians.
A nine-year-old Grade Three learner at Queensdale Primary School recently hanged himself after being chided by his mother for beating up his sibling.
This came a few days after a 14-year-old Townsend Girls High School student took her own life after her mother insisted she could only watch television after completing her homework.
In another sad incident, a 14-year-old hung herself in Buhera in June after being chastised by her mother for failing to do household chores.
During that same month, another 14-year-old from Mutare took her own life following a scuffle with her mother who had confiscated her cellphone.
Globally, suicide among children, which is the second leading cause of death among younger people aged between 10 and 24 years since 2007, is considered a preventable public health problem.
But experts conclude the latest cases of minors committing suicide are being fuelled by Covid-19-induced lockdowns.
An article produced in December last year in a leading newspaper in the United States noted a 67 percent increase in teen suicides in 2020 compared to 2019 before the pandemic.
Another post from “Psychology Today” raised similar concerns.
In India, one of the worst-hit countries by the coronavirus, it is reported that a student dies by suicide every hour since the onset of Covid-19-induced lockdowns.
In addition, a British Journal of Psychiatry claims at least 7 percent of children have attempted suicide by the age of 17 and almost one in four say they have self-harmed in the past year.
The new trend has prompted the Ministry of Health and Child Care to come up with initiatives that include conferences, educational seminars and public lectures to stem the rising tide.
The ministry’s spokesperson, Mr Donald Mujiri, said training courses on suicide and depression awareness will be integrated into curricula at primary, secondary and tertiary institutions.
This will be done in collaboration with relevant ministries.
“Child psychiatric hospitals in every province were passed as a recommendation by 31st Cabinet sitting (September 14, 2021) — yet another submission which was made by the Ministry of Health and Child Care in its mission to reduce the suicide rate. Also, a national mental health call centre to act as a suicide hotline is also being established,” he said.
Current referral centres for suicide management and crisis counselling are Parirenyatwa Annex psychiatric unit, Sally Mugabe psychiatric unit, Ingutsheni Psychiatric Hospital and Ngomahuru Hospital.
Psychologist and University of Johannesburg post-doctoral researcher Dr John Ringson believes lockdowns have caused over-involvement by parents in children’s affairs.
Failing to find personal space, he says, results in most minors struggling with mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder.
“If the teenagers do not get closure, they may end up committing suicide, feeling it is the only way out,” he warned.
“Culturally, in African society, teenagers are not given freedom to do as they please and that leaves most of the minors emotionally struggling in silence.”
Learners have since the onset of the coronavirus-induced lockdowns been forced to go on long holidays as the country battled to contain rising deaths and infections.
While the move has largely been successful, it has, however, come with unintended consequences.
The learning impetus for most students has been disturbed, leaving them struggling with their studies, which, in turn, has left many susceptible to depression and stress.
“Some adolescents slip into ‘adolescence struggle for sexual identity and relationships’ syndrome, which usually causes constant conflicts between them and their parents.
“The issue of suicides is sensitive and should be tackled from a sociological, psychological and emotional viewpoint,” he added.
Lack of support and access to pharmaceutical drugs, firearms and other poisonous substances unfortunately lead minors down a dark path.
Unlimited and unmonitored internet access has also been blamed for unfortunate outcomes.
China recently barred online gamers under the age of 18 from playing on weekdays and limited their play to just three hours most weekends.
Minors are now only allowed an hour of playtime between 8pm and 9pm on Friday, weekends and public holidays.
Authorities took drastic action after noticing adverse effects, which were often violent in nature.
“Minors also need to be monitored in their activities on the internet because this is where they get most of these ideas,” said health professional Dr Ebison Chinherende.
“Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, most families have been affected, resulting in them abusing each other and/or their children. This affects mental health and often teenagers commit suicide to escape the emotional torture.
“Government should consider psychological therapy and frequent mental evaluation sessions, especially for teenagers. Also, there is need for stern control mechanisms within the health sector to ensure that people, especially minors, do not have easy access to pharmaceutical drugs.
“Drug abuse is also rampant within these age groups because they want to experiment, so getting high coupled with existing frustrations usually leads one to commit suicide.”
Some experts also opine that rising divorce cases have not helped matters either, as they negatively affect minors psychologically.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), suicidal thoughts are more common among teenagers who grow up in broken homes.
Laws of Attraction psychologist Blessed Chinyangare argues that most minors are pushed to commit suicide by abuse and bullying.
Most perpetrators are reportedly either parents or close family friends.
“Sometimes the abused may have reported to parents or guardians but society has a tendency of wanting to safeguard family ties, which then forces the helpless victims to commit suicide,” he said.
“The issue of bullying should be handled carefully because most teens suffer in silence, resulting in them opting to take their own lives.”
According to children’s rights associations in Zimbabwe, close family members and relatives are perpetrators in more than 70 percent of abuse cases involving minors.
They further argue that about 40 percent of minors who fall pregnant or are expelled from school, or those who face abuse but have no one to talk to for psychological support, end up committing suicide.
According to social commentator Dr Rebecca Chisamba, parents need to rediscover their roles in the family.
“These days it no longer takes a village to raise a child, families and communities are divided and this has led most children to disrespect elders in such a way that they cannot take any advice from them,” she said.
“Minors are being treated as little adults and not as kids anymore. Parents no longer give guidance and counselling like back then when supervision was part of the parental and societal system.”
Dr Chisamba urged parents to teach minors on anger and stress management, and monitor their children’s behavioural changes.
“When a child breaks toys or cups out of anger, that is a red flag and as a concerned parent, it is something that should be dealt with, not celebrated. Parents also need to work as a team towards raising children and also desist from domestic violence,” advised Dr Chisamba.
However, Zimbabwe National Elders Forum chair Bishop Felix Mukonowengwe, who is also an Apostle with Harvest Time ministries, is of the opinion that suicide cases could be a result of family or generational curses.
Suicide, he said, was and will always be a taboo.
“What is currently happening is shocking from a religious perspective. It could be signs of end-times.
“Our society has also committed a lot of unholy acts, hence we need to join hands as a nation and pray for this calamity.”
Traditionalist Mbuya Calista Magorimbo traces some of the challenges to the spiritual world.
“A nine-year-old committing suicide? It is unheard of, so when it happens people should consult to understand where it came from, lest it affects more generations to come.
“Some of these things are a result of avenging spirits. For example, a member of that family or lineage may have committed murder. The restless spirit of the murdered person comes back to haunt the family, resulting in some members committing suicide, so the family should seek spirit.”