Debt induced suicides on the rise

Phillipa Jaja

The African Development Bank (2018) notes that though Zimbabwe has managed to clear some of the arrears owed to International Financial Institutions, both domestic and external debt by 30 March 2018, was approximately 86% of the GDP.

That equates to a high public debt which Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube at the end of 2021 placed at US$17,2 billion.

This high public debt is inextricably linked to negative implications on social expenditure leading to poverty distress for the majority of Zimbabweans. Most people are struggling to put food on the table.

Other natural needs such as shelter, education and health to name a few are now matters of luxury. According to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe, the June consumer basket was now incalculable up from a May budget of $120 000 for a family of five.

That a food budget is incalculable spells out all kinds of doom for an ordinary citizen. It is increasingly difficult to manage a family of five when the country’s civil servants wage earnings are very low. Additionally, the reliance on informal ways of earning money such as vending to eke out living and other alternative unnamed informal ways are all making survival difficult. The result is income earning in our country is very low or next to none.

So dire is the survival question such that people have resorted to taking out debts to make ends meet. In layman terms, debts simply refer to money borrowed with a promise of repayment. Common examples include monetary and student loans, mortgages and credit card purchases. However, the challenges of low wage earnings mentioned above have inevitably led to failure to repay leading to problematic debts. These have in turn led to mental health challenges culminating in debt related suicides.

Though there are psychological factors that drive people to end their lives, financial distress can be assumed to cement the link between socioeconomic problems and suicide. Socioeconomic forces are responsible for the disparity in suicide rates between high income and low-income countries.

BMJ Open, a research think tank in Latin America which carried out a study of economic cycles on suicide trends over 3 decades, found out that suicide rates are lower in Western high-income countries compared with low- and middle-income countries. Poverty prevailing in the country adds a spark to suicide driven motives.

 Financial problems induce feelings of despair and hopelessness to the extent of exhaustion. Affected people normally give up as they see no alternatives available to them to put their money issues in order. This culminates into entertaining thoughts of committing suicide. Problem debt driven suicides have been known to affect everyone regardless of class, race or gender.

That being said, suicide spares no man or woman. The ever-increasing cycle of women emancipation has also been their curse as they are now income earners who qualify for credits and loans by virtue of owning assets. As such, they are also prone to suicide related debts in the event of failure to repay.

 The World Health Organization (WHO) in a survey carried out in 2016 to determine suicide global health estimates in the world found out that female in lower middle-income countries had the highest suicide rate (9.1 per 100 000) compared to females in other income level groupings. Reasons given for this, especially in single motherhood cases can be that family heading responsibilities are overwhelming.

Being lone providers is no easy feat and women who according to ZIMCODD (Zimbabwe Coalition on debt and development) often bear the brunt of reduced economic opportunities are the most hard hit by problem debts. Other vices such as financial abuse where men can compel women to take loans on their behalf and use their assets as collateral leading to failure to repay are important suicide triggers to consider.

 This is very true for a Harare woman who recently committed suicide by drinking rat poison because of problem debts. The woman who had allegedly taken out a loan to support her boyfriend’s entrepreneurial exploits was ghosted by the said benefactor on all social platforms leaving her to the mercy of loan sharks who at one time collected 15 of her household blankets as reimbursements.

It is further said that she had also dipped her fingers in a mukando (round table funds) to the dismay of some friends she was working with who also came knocking demanding the money. So traumatic were her money problems that she previously attempted suicide only to be treated and counselled at Warren Park Suburban clinic. However, she successfully attempted another suicide which later led to her demise on Tuesday the 6th.

Evident in this is a need for a broader based approach critical for suicide prevention as therapy alone was not a successful intervention in the above-mentioned case. Mr. Tonderai Kanongora, a professional counsellor of seven years recommends active preventive strategies for effective results.

 “Firstly, I want to assert that suicide is preventable. Secondly, therapy should be used in conjunction with a number of active strategies to help curb suicidal tendencies. People with prior self-harming history should be closely and frequently monitored to avoid further risk to themselves. Peer network groups should be formed and run by surviving victims so people in the ideation stages can relate and be discouraged (NB suicide ideation are suicidal thoughts). There should also be strict measures put in place so people in the country do not abuse rat poisons and other harmful substances as is the case in most suicide cases at the present moment,” he said.

Suicide is a fast-growing problem globally. In Zimbabwe, suicide cases are now a permanent media feature. Studies have linked suicide statistics to low income earning countries showing the nexus between poverty, financial distress and suicide. The onus is upon everyone with the family playing a critical and supportive role in suicide prevention.

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