A Reflection of Suicide and Mental Health in South Sudan

In this article Raymond Van Neste writes about the work of Raimund Alberwho is an Austrian psychologist working in a hospital situated in South Sudan at a United Nations Mission South Sudan site known as UNMISS  (South Sudan’s Malakai ‘Protection of Civilians’ site). The hospital is a part of the United Nations camp and is for displaced people who are victims of the conflict in that country.  

Raymond Van Neste
25 July 2018

The camp in South Sudan.  Photo: Philippe Carr/MSF


The Mental Health Team at the hospital

The hospital includes a small group of mental health medical workers who help as much as possible any person in the camp who has attempted to commit suicide or is suffering from mental illness / distress.  Among the mental health medical workers, are Raimund Alber (Medical Director), a small group of councillors as well as a translator.  The hospital and the mental health unit  are run by Medecins Sans Frontieres, Doctors without Borders.  There are around 24,000 people living at the camp.

Mental health in South Sudan

In South Sudan, because of the ongoing crisis, there are a countless numbers of people who do not want to continue to live or exist in an existence that does not offer any hope and there is only distress, fear and hopelessness in a country where there is an endless war. This relates especially to people who have lost, as a result of the conflict, members of their families or have become victims during the civil war in the country.
Raimund Alber particularly writes about a young man from the camp who had attempted to end his life by suicide. The young man was saved from the final act of hanging himself by a neighbour who intervened and managed to get him to hospital.
In South Sudan there is a law which makes it illegal for anybody who tries to commit suicide. However, the people in the camp and also the UN police know and accept that people with this kind of illness need help and are therefore directed to the hospital.
A sad statistic or fact which Alber mentions is that for the first part of 2018, twelve people who were desperate for help were admitted to the clinic at the hospital. A further nine during March. One person never made it, he had hung himself and was not found in time to save his life.
A ward at the hospital run by MSF. Photo Philippe Carr/MSF


How much can people take?

With regard to the arrival of the young man to the Mental Health Clinic, mentioned earlier, Alber reflects on the sadness of the war in South Sudan and the effect that this is having not only on people’s lives but particularly on their mental health. The young man, who is just 19 years of age, is a reminder of the needs of the many people who are admitted to the hospital. A question asked by Alber is: how much can people take? This young man nearly lost his life. People who are victims of war, have lost their loved ones, are perhaps alone, lonely, sick and without hope, fearful that their own lives will also come to an end or have no meaning or purpose. They may feel that they have no reason for being alive.

The need for help and the work of MSF

As a Westerner, and having lived in the West for most of my life I know that mental health issues here are not given a lot of resources and are seen as less worthy than than health issues which are physical. However, things are a lot better recently, especially after some recent campaigns in the media to bring to life, as real, mental health needs. These needs include depression and at the far end of the scale, suicide. And so, how much more difficult is it in a country like South Sudan, in the midst of a war and conflict, when a person is in need of mental health care for them to get the care that they need?
It goes without saying that MSF is doing a very special and fantastic job in working where there is the most need and especially saving people’s lives from the horrors of mental illness, distress and suicide.
It must be very difficult for the medical team in a camp like the camp in South Sudan. It must be easy to become disheartened by the extent of the number of people who need help but also by the seemingly endless and heartless war in the country.


Where there is hope there is life

Alber writes that even though there are virtually no medical facilities for the huge numbers of people in need, apart from the hospital run by the MSF, there is still hope. The medical and mental health team working for MSF are bringing hope to the people there and this is the hope that the people there need because without it there is no hope.


The above article is based on Raimund Alber’s Blog: MSF in South Sudan and the title is: The night I met Thomas: Mental health support in South Sudan

Author: Raimund Alber

Raymond Van Neste’s blog:‘Learn English by Thinking Globally’




Copyright.  A Reflection of Suicide and Mental Health in South Sudan.  Raymond Van Neste. 26/7/2018 ©