Activists have said the law which criminalizes suicide is still a challenge in fighting mental health problems in the country.
According to the penal code, a person who attempts suicide is to be incarcerated an in chapter 20, under offences connected with murder and suicide, any person who attempts to kill himself or herself commits a misdemeanor.
Speaking during a candlelight event to commemorate the world mental health day at Hotel Africa, Derrick Kizza, the Mental Health Uganda Executive Director said many people fear to report cases of suicide and attempted suicide to police for fear of being held responsible.
“Many cases of suicide are never reported because of a number of reasons including stigmatization, criminalization where you are held liable for being a criminal. This proves to be a barrier in fighting mental health problems in the country,”Kizza said.
Kizza noted that some cultural practices which criminalise suicide are another bottleneck in the fight against mental health problems in our communities.
“Any example is in Buganda where someone who hangs themselves is treated like a dog. They dig a hole and cut a rope for your body to fall in the hole and in simple terms one is buried like a dog. All these practices that criminalise suicide are in a way or the other not helped in the fight against mental health problems.”
According to Sarah Tushemereirwe, many of the people who take their lives do it as the last resort to end the pain they are going through but she said there is need to help them out and not criminalizing them.
“I tried to take my life countless times but all this was in order to end the pain I was going through. I want to share my story to shed light on such a topic that is a taboo but is necessary,”Tushemereirwe said.
She insisted that suicide is a mental disorder that can be prevented.
“We need to stop stigmatization but also criminalization of suicide. Suicide prevention will help save many lives but this can be done through education of the public about the problem.”
Doreen Kanyesigye, a lawyer who on several occasions contemplated taking her life insisted there is need for families and communities to help with people having mental health problems.
“I was pregnant with my daughter and I had thoughts of ending my life. When I went to talk to a close relative who I really trusted, rather than giving me hope just abused me and asked whether I was stupid. They made me feel I was weird and this didn’t make me lose the urge to end my life.
“Depression and desire to take one’s life is not for a chosen few but all of us are candidates of the same. There is need for family and community members to support members suffering from mental health problems.”
She noted that some society beliefs are fuelling the stigmatization of mental health patients.
The Mental Health Uganda Executive Director said there will always be signs for people with mental health problems and noted that these need not to be ignored by their family members and friends.
“People who have always died because of suicide have always talked about ending their lives but people around them seemed not to care. There are many signs that could predict that someone is about to commit suicide and these should never be ignored,” Derrick Kizza said.
“These people say they want to end their lives because they are fed up of being on earth. They show signs of frustration. There are instances they go to loved ones and bid farewell to them. These are signs we should watch out for.”
He noted that there is need to provide spaces that would ensure people who are having serious challenges have someone to talk to and they are available to listen to their challenges.
Kizza, however, noted that having treatment options for suicide is not the solution but dealing with social determinants like unemployment and poverty because they lead people into depression and attempting or die by suicide.
According to a recent report by the World Health Organisation, one person dies by suicide every 40 seconds which means that suicide accounts for more deaths than war and homicide combined and is the second leading cause of death among those aged 15-29, behind road accidents.
Uganda is in the 17th position on the list of countries where suicide is registered as a cause of death, with 18.67 per 100,000 deaths due to suicide.