Ongwediva - About 10 police officers are said to have committed suicide in less than two years.
This year alone, the Namibian Police Force has already reported five cases of officers who took their lives. These statistics have added to five more cases, where four police officers ended their lives last year by shooting.
The 10th officer committed suicide by hanging.
Among the latest victims is warrant officer Vilho Hamulwa (56), who was the station commander at Tubusis police station at the time of his death. He allegedly shot himself in the head with his service gun in his work car.
Police spokesperson Kauna Shikwambi said efforts are put in place to give psycho-social support to officers in need.
According to her, the police has a unit equipped with social workers which renders professional services to members of the force.
A clinical psychologist at the Khomas Medical Centre said people in law-enforcement occupations experience a variety of adverse and often traumatic exposures, including life-threatening situations and traumatic events.
Maryna Mostova said accidents, violence and assaults, child abuse, continuous exposure to death and injury scenes, in addition to social strain resulting from shift work and the perception among police officers that they work under a negative public image, can affect one’s mental health.
Mostova observed that exposure to gruesome scenes can result in mental health issues such as depression and a sense of hopelessness, post-traumatic disorders, anxiety and suicidal thoughts or ideas, which are often undiagnosed and untreated.
“While the link between suicide and mental disorders is well-established, many suicides happen impulsively in moments of crisis, with a breakdown in the ability to deal with life stresses of financial problems, break-ups or chronic pain and illness,” she stressed.
Mostova added that the readily available access to firearms provides an immediate means for officers to act on suicide thoughts.
“Law-enforcement officers see suicide up close as they may be the first on the scene, as well as being responsible for notifying family members. This exposure to suicide subsequently increases suicidal thoughts and behaviour. Police culture may also contribute to social isolation, such as socialisation practices that promote internal solidarity, but can also lead officers to mistrust outsiders, creating an “us versus them mentality,” she narrated.
In addition, she mentioned a lack of mental health assistance or peer support programmes and a lack of access to mental health services, especially in rural areas.
The stigma with regards to mental illnesses and suicide result in many people who are contemplating suicide or who have made an attempt on their own, not to ask for assistance. As a result, they do not receive the appropriate treatment.
According to Mostova, a suicide prevention strategy is necessary for an effective national response, and every person can play a role in suicide awareness and prevention.
“While on an individual level we can educate ourselves and inform our communities on signs and symptoms as well as normalise the mental health talks to break the stigma, multiple institutional sectors must coordinate and work together to prevent suicide.
Suicide can be effectively prevented by limiting access to the means of suicide (like pesticides, firearms, certain medications), early detection, evaluation, management and follow-up for anyone who exhibits suicidal behaviours,” she said.
She emphasised that every expression of suicidal thoughts should be taken seriously.
“The training and education of police officers on how to identify and effectively respond to emotional trauma, mental illness or suicidal behaviour among colleagues and the community as well as how to practice self-care and healthy coping strategies can equip those in law-enforcement to navigate those sensitive issues skilfully,” she continued.
Deputy minister of safety and security Daniel Kashikola recently acknowledged that depression, low salaries and poor working conditions are considered as the driving forces behind suicide among Force members.
But he also maintained that the police’s salary scale is the same scale that applies to all government employees.
“We are just saying that police officers are poorly compensated because they are many, but everyone who works for government is compensated the same. It is not the ministry that came up with the compensation scale for police officers, but the Public Service Commission,” he stated. Kashikola added that the ministry is going to put in more efforts to introduce new ways to assist officers who are suffering from depression.
“The aim is to ensure all 14 regions have pastors and social workers within police departments in order to provide services to officers at their work premises,” he said.
Recently, outgoing police chief Sebastian Ndeitunga said the force started to train its own members as social workers to address mental health issues.
“Some of our police officers are frustrated, which affects their social well-being,” he noted.
He said the frustrations of the officers in the Force, among other issues, are caused by some separating from their spouses because they were transferred far from their families, and because of low salaries, while some want to be promoted.
Get help… Members of the police who are unable to cope with stress should seek professional assistance.
Photo: Namibian Police