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When another person’s pain becomes unbearable, reach out and restore hope before it’s too late

When another person’s pain becomes unbearable, reach out and restore hope before it’s too late

The statistics from the Health Ministry on suicide came as a big shock. It is almost impossible to believe that by the end of this year, about 1000 Namibians will have taken their own lives in just two years.

The stats are gross: – by the end of July, counting from the beginning of last year, 790 individuals no longer saw any sense in continuing this life. Going by the many known cases for August and September, I think we have already passed the 800 mark, and by the end of this year, the estimate stands at one thousand.

Noticeable is the fact that a disproportionate number of suicides happened in the North, with men again leading the stakes. A similar pattern is also discernible in the overall stats were men lead by six to one.

The only statistic that bucks the trend is for the number of unsuccessful attempts. Here young females are most vulnerable and their method of death also differs from the national pattern. It seems young women put more confidence in chemistry, using available tablets or other medicine to overdose.

When confronted by a horrible situation like this, my first reaction was to doubt the statistics. This notion was quickly dispelled however, when I realised that all deaths must be reported and a death certificate issued. Furthermore, suicide is an unnatural death so a docket has to be opened by the police for investigation, even if only to confirm the circumstances of the death. I assume that the ministry will have access to all these statistics.

Perhaps most disconcerting, is the fact that a relatively large number of young people (under the age of 18) also take their own lives. This is a situation that is difficult to understand given the popular perception that young people are footloose and fancy free. Apparently not all of them are, and those that are inclined to consider suicide seems to be able to hide it very well.

This was one of the ironies that struck me. Suicide is incurable but it is preventable. This translates to an implied accusation against you and me, in fact against any person who also suffers mentally and psychologically, but who does not see suicide as a way out. The accusation is: “Why do we fail to recognise the warning signs when another human being is so obviously under distress that ending his or her life, seems the only solution available?”

My empathy for victims of suicide runs very deep but we have to realise that empathy after the fact, serves no purpose. To be effective, and to prevent suicides, treatment or therapy must be ante hoc facto. When therapy has failed and the concerned individual decides to go ahead, the system for support has failed that person.

This reminded me of an anecdote from Victor Frankl who wrote in one of his recollections of the holocaust, that it was futile to retrieve and resuscitate a person who has hanged himself. Frankl learned through his death camp experiences that support had to be given before a destitute person reached the point where suicide was the only way out. Once that person has made up his or her mind, it was just a matter of execution. Through many repeats, Frankl eventually learned that a second, often successful, suicide was inevitable once the victim has given up hope.

The also struck me from the Deputy Minister’s speech when discussing the suicide statistics. She issued a strong plea, not only for improved support structures, but also for reaching out. Hope, she said, is what must be restored, and that can only happen if there is hope. And hope can only be nurtured in a caring environment.

So next time you see someone in pain, physical or mental, reach out, give a hand, lend an ear, but please let the despondent person know that you care. This fosters hope and hope fosters life.


About The Author

Daniel Steinmann

Educated at the University of Pretoria: BA (hons), BD. Postgraduate degrees in Philosophy and Divinity. Publisher and Editor of the Namibia Economist since February 1991. Daniel Steinmann has steered the Economist as editor for the past 32 years. The Economist started as a monthly free-sheet, then moved to a weekly paper edition (1996 to 2016), and on 01 December 2016 to a daily digital newspaper at It is the first Namibian newspaper to go fully digital. He is an authority on macro-economics having established a sound record of budget analysis, strategic planning and assessing the impact of policy formulation. For eight years, he hosted a weekly talk-show on NBC Radio, explaining complex economic concepts to a lay audience in a relaxed, conversational manner. He was a founding member of the Editors' Forum of Namibia. Over the years, he has mentored hundreds of journalism students as interns and as young professional journalists. From time to time he helps economics students, both graduate and post-graduate, to prepare for examinations and moderator reviews. He is the Namibian respondent for the World Economic Survey conducted every quarter for the Ifo Center for Business Cycle Analysis and Surveys at the University of Munich in Germany. Since October 2021, he conducts a weekly talkshow on Radio Energy, again for a lay audience. On 04 September 2022, he was ordained as a Minister of the Dutch Reformed Church of Africa (NHKA). Send comments or enquiries to [email protected]