NGO raises alarm over debt-weary tenants taking their own lives

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A public group #NoEvictions has raised alarm over people who are committing suicide due to harassment by landlords. The Facebook-based group led by Nanandi Albers has been mobilising on behalf of people who cannot meet their monthly rental because of the loss of income due to COVID-19.

Albers, who is also advocating for a moratorium on evictions, says they have been overwhelmed with requests for help by people who are sinking in debt.

She says she knows of two people who have taken their own lives due to stress caused by the harassment.

“The suicide rates are starting to climb because of this. I know of two suicides that are directly related to this situation and I myself has been up from 1 o’clock to 2 o’clock in the morning trying to help some people. I talk to them and if I feel it’s urgent, I do pay for them. And there’s one or two times when I do stay up late talking to somebody who just couldn’t handle anymore.”

COVID-19 has increased depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts: 

Suicides under lockdown

In August, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize revealed that close to 1 800 people in the country have committed suicide in the four months following the declaration of the lockdown in March.

The province with the most incidents is Gauteng with 482 suicide-related deaths. It is followed by KwaZulu-Natal standing at 392. Eastern Cape had 297 and the Western Cape had 180 people who committed suicide over the four month period. Mpumalanga had 175 suicide-related deaths, Limpopo had 117, followed by North West with 73 people. The Free State had 51 suicides and the Northern Cape had 44.

In May, some mental health experts told SABC News that many South Africans are increasingly experiencing depression due to financial burdens and stress brought about by the coronavirus pandemic and resultant lockdown. They say the COVID-19 virus has sparked anxiety, panic and an increase in substance abuse.

Psychologist Thokozani Sithole said COVID-19 has induced a lot of anxiety and depression.

“The pandemic has induced a lot of anxiety, a lot of depression symptoms. People are feeling lonely during lockdown and their lives have stopped. So, that impacts a lot on their psychological functioning and well-being. What I have seen as a physiologist in my practice, these sorts of red flags play out and people are suffering in silence.  They don’t have anyone to talk to them and no one understands what’s happening. The reality is mental health is stigmatised, people don’t talk about these issues, or feeling, depressed, and having anxiety.”