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Worrisome, rising cases of suicide in Nigeria

Dr. Allwell Orji’s SUV which he alighted from and jumped into the lagoon on Third Mainland Bridge, Lagos on Sunday (INSET) the

In 2003, World Values Survey ranked Nigerians among the happiest people in the world in a report. This was in spite of the glaring challenges confronting them.On Monday, a report released by the United Nations (UN) ranked Nigerians the sixth happiest people in Africa and 95th in the world.

With this latest report, it is obvious that despite the hardships occasioned by the economic recession, Nigerians are not only relatively happy, they are also hopeful that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

But these assertions have been put to test by rising cases of suicide in the country in recent times.Last Sunday, 35-year-old medical doctor, Allwell Orji, jumped into the Lagos Lagoon on the Third Mainland Bridge and died.

Since then, there have been several questions over what may have prompted his action, but no answer has been provided yet, just speculations and rumours. While some believe evil forces might have manipulated him mysteriously and spiritually, others reckon it could be due to a mental disorder or depression.

Also last Saturday, a 500-level Urban and Regional Planning undergraduate of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomosho, Adesoji Adediran, hanged himself inside his hostel room.

His roommates, who had been away for a night study, reportedly returned in the morning to find his body dangling from the ceiling and alerted the school management, which notified the Police at the Owode Division. Officers from the station later came to remove the remains.

It would be recalled that in January this year, a 19-year-old student of Babcock University in Ilishan-Remo, Ogun State, Verishima Unokyur, committed suicide in his parents’ home in Mafoluku area of Oshodi, Lagos.

In August last year, a manager with a commercial bank, Olisa Nwokobi, shot himself in Lagos. It was revealed that the 44-year-old bank manager and graduate of Abia State University, Uturu, killed himself because he was under pressure from his bank over loan repayment.

The above are just a few in the public domain, as there are several cases of suicide across Nigeria that were either concealed by the affected families for fear of stigmatisation or not reported to the Police or by the media.

With suicide growing in leaps and bounds, the questions on the lips of many are: “Why the increasing rate of suicide even among the youth and the rich? What problem or challenges could make one take his/her own life? Why the increase rate in recent times? Could it because of the hardship or depression occasioned by the economic recession? Is government and Nigerians doing enough to curb or the menace? Could the action have been intentional, psychological or induced by unseen external forces?

These are germane questions begging for answer, as medical and health professionals try to unravel the causes and effects and proffer solution to the menace.According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), approximately one million people die by suicide every year, and for everyone who dies by suicide, about 20 more have attempted suicide.

Suicide is now one of the three leading causes of death among those aged between 15 and 44 and the second leading cause of death in the 10 to 24 years age group.It is estimated that 75 per cent of global suicides occur in low and middle-income countries and around 30 per cent are due to pesticide self-poisoning, most of which occur in rural agricultural areas.

Other common methods of suicide are hanging and firearms.Scientifically, a few studies in Nigeria have looked at rates of suicide, while unconfirmed reports by the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) showed seven Nigerian states with high suicide rates. They include Ogun, with the highest rate, followed by Lagos, Ebonyi, Delta, Oyo, Ondo and Kano.

Consultant Psychiatrist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Dr. Raphael E. Ogbolu, told The Guardian that committing suicide starts from having the thoughts or ideas about killing oneself, followed by coming up with a plan on how to do it and then finally attempting it.

The psychiatrist, who is also the Coordinator of Suicide Prevention Service, called the Suicide Research and Prevention Initiative and Staff Emotional Care Services (SURPIN/SECS), disclosed that in Nigeria, 0.37 per cent and 12 per cent of adult military populations and adolescent populations, respectively, have attempted to kill themselves, according to research by Okulate, Omigbodun and colleagues.

Ogbolu added: “It has also been reported that during their lifetime, about 3.0 per cent of Nigerians would have thoughts of ending their lives, 1.0 per cent would plan on how to kill themselves and just under 1.0 per cent end up attempting to kill themselves.

“These facts should make it clear to us that suicide occurs in our society.”Reports suggest that the prevailing economic recession appears to have further stimulated more suicide cases across the country.

Also, several studies have shown that risk factors for suicide include mental disorder (such as depression, personality disorder, alcohol dependence, drug abuse or schizophrenia), social isolation and lack of support, reactions to failure and disappointments, response to accumulated domestic violence, unemployment and some physical illnesses, such as neurological disorders, cancer and Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) infection.

Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels and behaves.According to Association Of Psychiatrists In Nigeria (APIN), the country has had quite a number of youths taking their lives for various reasons, sometimes not known.

The psychiatrists said against the general belief that suicide results from mental illness, not all those who commit suicide are mentally ill.According to the WHO, in terms of policy, 28 countries today are known to have national suicide prevention strategies, while World Suicide Prevention Day, organised by the International Association for Suicide Prevention, is observed worldwide on September 10 every year.

A study published in African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies (AJCJS) noted that the Nigerian Federal Law criminalises non-fatal suicidal behaviour.According to the country’s penal code (Nigeria Penal Code, Chapter 27, Section 327): “Any person who attempts to kill himself is guilty of a misdemeanour and is liable to imprisonment for one year.”

Nigerian law also criminalises abetment of suicide, as Chapter 27, Section 326 of the Nigeria Penal Code says: “Any person who (1) procures another to kill himself; or (2) counsels another to kill himself and thereby induces him to do so; or (3) aids another in killing himself; is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for life.”

Although attempted suicide is a crime in Nigeria, actual prosecutions against those who attempt it appear to be rare. According to local and international data, fatal and non-fatal suicide rates in most African countries are relatively low, compared with rates in Western industrialised countries.

It is, however, unclear whether the lower rates are linked to the threat of judicial sanctions for failure to complete a suicidal act. According to AJCJS, existing data suggest that for most African countries, other factors may be important in explaining low suicide mortality and attempted suicide rates, including ubiquitous anti-suicide religious beliefs and mortuary practices that discourage self-inflicted deaths, availability of social support to despairing individuals and limited access to potentially lethal methods of suicide, such as firearms, sleeping pills.

In recent years, a number of concerned individuals and groups have called for the repeal of anti-suicide laws. Most of the advocates are professional psychiatrists and other mental health professionals, as well as members of non-governmental agencies working in the field of suicide prevention.

They argue that persons who attempt suicide need psychological counseling, medical help or material assistance, rather than judicial punishment. For anti-suicide laws to have the anticipated deterrent effect, it is essential that citizens be aware of the illegality of attempted suicide.

According to the AJCJS report, to date, no study has been done to determine the extent to which citizens are aware of anti-suicide statutes. This means it is not known how many suicidal persons have been constrained from carrying out a suicidal act because of their awareness of extant legislation that criminalises suicidal behaviour.

APIN, however, stressed the need to develop resilience (the ability to cope with adverse life events and adjust to them), a sense of personal self-worth and self-confidence, effective coping and problem-solving skills and adaptive help-seeking behaviour, as they are often considered to be protective factors against the development of suicidal behaviours.

According to APIN, suicide is not the best way of dealing with personal loss or the way to manage any situation, adding: “Suicide has to stop and this involves joint campaign by everyone.”

However, the American Association of Suicidology has developed a way to help identify the warning signs of suicide in individuals, coined IS PATH WARM: I- Ideation, S-Substance abuse, P-Purposelessness, A-Anxiety, T-Trapped, H-Hopelessness, W-Withdrawal, A-Anger, R-Recklessness and M-Mood change.

The psychiatrists said the approach has to be a concerted and coordinated effort, and coincidentally, LUTH has just put together a suicide prevention service called the Suicide Research and Prevention Initiative (SURPIN), and events of the past few days have further underscored the need to commence immediately.

In this article:
Allwell Orji


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