The rate of suicide in Nigeria today has no doubt reached an alarming stage and needs urgent attention. Coincidentally, studies have shown a rising and disturbing trend in alcohol and substance use among adolescents and young adults in Nigeria. Although mental health awareness is slowly but steadily becoming a major issue in the Nigerian media space, the rise in Nigeria as a suicide-prone country seems not to be getting the right attention, even as the country ranks seventh and 15th in Africa and the world respectively.
Depression, which Nigerians hitherto saw as ‘the White man’s sickness, has over the years crept up and now literally lives with them. Recently, the Association of Psychiatric Nurses of Nigeria (APNON) trooped out in their large numbers to celebrate this year’s World Mental Health Day with theme ‘Suicide Prevention’. In an exclusive interview with The Nation, the chairperson of the Association of Psychiatric Nurses of Nigeria, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH chapter, Oluwatosin Adesola Dada, noted that suicide which has become a menace in Nigeria today was not there in the 1980s and 90s.
She blamed technology and the lackadaisical attitude of many parents on the rising cases of suicide among young people. “Parents go out in the morning and come back at night; the communication between parents and children is getting eroded and those children have a lot going through their minds and have no one to share it with and so they resolve to technology to learn.” Some parents complain that their children are no longer talking to them but are always on the Internet. Even what they are doing on phone they don’t have time to check…. So it has to do with the home, the family and society; and that’s why we said we have to take it all out because it’s not something that an individual alone can do. It’s a collaborative effort of all of us to stop the menace in our society,” she sermonised.
Also speaking, the General Secretary of APNON, Lagos State Branch, Ikechukwu Okpara, said it’s high time the whole world got concerned about mental health, saying it goes beyond seeing people walking naked on the streets. He noted that even the World Health Organisation, WHO, recognises that there are imbalances in the state of health of human beings. “It’s either you have deficiency in one place or the other, but some people are ailing in terms of mental capacity and that’s what we are trying to exhibit,” he added.
According to the mental health experts, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 18-29 years old with 79 percent of global suicides occurring in low and middle income countries. Speaking on the causes of suicide, Dada said mental illness, trauma and environmental factors that results in depression, cannot be rule out outright. She cited the increasingly harsh economy in the country, which has led some businesses owners into bankruptcy as another risk factor. Reacting to a recent report of a man who took his life because of money he lost to gambling, Dada described gambling itself as an effect of mental disorder that no right thinking person should dabble into.
“People are financially bankrupt. Most people borrow money to invest in businesses which they are unable to refund. But the fact that one owes does not warrant him taking his life. Whatever one used as collateral is what they will take, we don’t own our lives and we are not supposed to take it.” Lending his voice, a psychiatric nurse with Department of Mental Health at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Dr. Taiwo Amusa, identified depression, emotional trauma, economic challenges, domestic violence, neglect, financial imbalance, acculturation, joblessness, amongst others, as causative factors of suicide.
She noted that some of the government policies are capable of preventing or escalating suicide among citizens, stressing that some people prefer to take their lives rather than face agony and shame when hit by the pangs of harsh economy, social, cultural or psychological occurrences. Amusa enjoined the government to review some of its policies and evaluate the effects of those policies on lower income earners and the people at the grassroots. He opined that a lady who experiences rape, if adequate steps are not taken, may end up taking her life.
General Secretary, Association of Psychiatric Nurses of Nigeria, Lagos State Branch, Ikechukwu Okpara, emphasised that apart from psychiatric condition, which serves as a leading cause of suicide, familiar tendencies, poverty, emotional pains and deep sense of hopelessness can also make one exterminate his life. He reiterated that about sixty per cent of people committing suicide in the society are people dealing with depression and nursing one particular psychiatric condition or the other.
According to Dada, suicide prevention is a concerted effort of all and sundry that must begin from homes. She emphasised that efforts to prevent suicide must be comprehensive and integrated, as no single approach can make an impact on an issue as complex as suicide. She tasked Nigerians to always watch out for some privileged information that one would ordinarily not exhibit – except one is depressed, adding that at that point, one needs to intervene and ask questions that may avert suicide in such person.
“The bottom line is we need to show love to one another, though victims of depression do see people intervention as intruding into their private lives, but if what they call intrusion will save their lives, it is better we intrude. So the prevention of this ugly trend has to start from the home-front. Parents need to create time for their children and let them understand that life is full of ups and downs. The best way to prevent suicide is not about government banning firearms, snipers, insecticide and all that, but awareness should be created to condemn it.
“The funniest thing about depression is it takes a lot of efforts for the victims to speak out. So a person who wants to intervene should not give up until he is able to get to a point where you make him/her speak out. While reporting suicide, the media should find a way to sensitise people that it is never an option. It’s not enough to just report the number of people that commit suicide,” she stressed. People don’t even know the implications of suicide, at a particular time when someone committed suicide you have nothing less than six people that would be also affected by the effect of that suicide.
“A report recently revealed that over 40 people who have committed suicide this year, 11 are undergraduate students. So it’s not something that we should continue to experience in our society because the implications are enormous. Human resources are being lost when people with high hope and aspirations just decide to take their own lives. It is a great lost,” he concluded.