The sudden recourse to suicide by most dispirited people in the society as the lasting solution to their woes not only conflicts with African culture but against the constitution of the country. TAYO OLANIPEKUN engages experts on how to stem the tide.
The increase in number of reported cases of suicide and attempted suicide in the country in recent time is to an extent, a pointer to the fact that Nigeria now has a societal problem of a unique kind to contend with.
Shortly after the widely reported incident of a medical doctor, Allwell Orji, who plunged into the lagoon from the Third Mainland Bridge on March 19, a textile dealer, Taiwo Momoh, also attempted doing same before being rescued by the police. Momoh, and another Lagosian, Abigail Ogunyinka, were also saved from drowning in the lagoon by the police. After they were rescued, they gave crushing weight of debts as the reason for their actions.
The latest in the series of suicide cases in the country is that of a one-time councilor and father of nine, Benbede Kitchen, who threw Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital into confusion on Thursday when he hung himself over his wife’s alleged infidelity due to economic hardship.
Kichen, 43, popularly known as G.K. Bekegbo, hung himself with a bed sheet at about 4:00am on Wednesday without leaving behind a suicide note.
The late former councilor who served as a supervisory member on Health of the Rural Development Authority (RDA) in 2000 during the Late D.S.P Alameiseigha’s tenure was said to have died after a desperate and frustrating search for his wife, Madam Beauty.
While some claimed he killed himself due to the economic hardship, others claimed he took his life after a desperate search for his wife and suspicion of infidelity.
Save for a few, the major reason the public has adduced for the current spate of suicide is the bad economy and its attendant frustration.
It is not in doubt that the nation is going through very difficult times economically, socially and even politically. A consultant psychiatrist and former chief medical director, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Dr Femi Olugbile, agreed with this to an extent, even as he said that the present economic situation could lead to stress, which is a frequent precipitant of mental disorder in persons who are already vulnerable.
He contended, however, that since suicide and attempted suicide occur even in the most stable societies, other than the prevailing socio-economic problems, something more peculiar to an individual is more likely to be responsible.
The medical expert said, “Most cases of suicide and attempted suicide are associated with a diagnosable mental disorder, usually depression. Stress is a major tipping factor”.
Of course, in developed economies, there are reports of hotels that allegedly make provisions for facilities that can help people end it all. There is also the case of assisted death, euthanasia, allowed under the law, in some European countries.
In the past few months in Nigeria, there have been about 20 other reported cases of suicide or ‘unsuccessful’ attempts. Prominent among the lot is the Air force Officer, Lieutenant Kalu B.A, who did himself in after he murdered his colleague and girlfriend, Solape Oladipupo, in Benue State, for double dating.
Also, a 500 Level Urban and Regional Planning, Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Adesoji Adeniran, was found hanging in his room, when his roommates returned from overnight study.
A Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain, Dr. Isaac Ojukwu, also engaged in ‘self immolation’ and refused help from other lodgers as he razed down an Abuja hotel about a week ago.
There is also a woman, simply identified as Emerald, who attempted suicide in Maza Maza area of Lagos. As the search for Dr. Orji’s body was on, an unidentified body was also found at the Apongbon end of the Lagos lagoon.
Speaking on the reason for the upsurge, a mental health physician and psychotherapist, Dr. Maymunah Kadiri, said the upsurge may not just be down to economic hardship, noting that this was not the first time the country was going through economic hardship.
The question on the lips of most people is what is has become different? Cases of suicide are underreported in Nigeria, even when the economy was robust. The unfortunate cases of Dr. Orji and others that have been given attention in the media in recent time only brought the issue to the consciousness of the general public.
The awareness is evident in the tone of public comments on the issue and activities on the social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, that are now abuzz with various messages urging members of the public to love and show emotional care for one another.
There has also been a kind of neighbor- to -neighbour warning alert about an alleged mysterious number that ‘hypnotises’ the receiver to commit suicide. This claim has, however, been refuted by telephone service providers.
The reality, though, is that suicide is now on the increase globally with 40 to 45 per cent of the cases arising from the low and medium income countries. The increase, experts believe, is also not precipitated by the effect of cases of suicide killings by the militants Boko Haram on people’s psyche.
Suicide occurrences are largely as a result of wrong indoctrination that defies natural human logic that everyone should value life. Reports also have it that in Ghana touted to be without cases of suicide attacks, about seven persons have committed suicide this year alone. Majority of these were said to be students, including a 14-year-old primary school pupil and a final year student of the University of Ghana.
Dr. Kadiri says for every successful suicide, thousands more are traumatized and to stem this tide in the society, there should be a support system which will involve coordination and collaboration.
This according to him is especially from the justice system, policymakers, religious organisations and even the media as well as an improved health system.
“There are many doctors out there looking for residency and the 180 million Nigerians are served one psychiatrist to one million persons,” he said, adding that the system must improve significantly as what a suicidal person needs are care and empathy.
“But the policy the nation has in place to deter suicide (or its attempt) in Nigeria is far from being empathetic. Cap 27 Section 327 of the Nigerian Criminal Code Act say a person attempting to kill himself is guilty of a misdemeanor and liable to imprisonment for one year.
“It is an anachronistic, totally useless law that criminalises a condition that should attract immediate sympathy and professional help”, said Dr. Olugbile. He added that the law will rather make the person who is feeling suicidal to really “complete” the suicide as a way of avoiding unsympathetic handling by the police and even the risk of imprisonment.
Experts posit that what Nigerians need at a time like this is what obtains in civilized countries where suicide is taken as an indication of a need for mental health assistance. In such a situation, all persons who attempt suicide are required to have a mental health assessment. Dr. Kadiri is of the belief that non health workers can even be trained to render assistance before a psychiatrist is involved in a suicide attempt.
“Do we even have to get to the level of arrest and detention of a person that is suicidal?” she queried. However, before the matter comes to a head for persons in perplexing situations, people around should be alert to warning signs manifesting in increasing isolation, low mood, expressions of hopelessness and disengagement from usual positive behavior.
According to Dr. Olugbile, it will also include any pattern of behavior that shows “desperation, unbearable stress or a sense of having given up. The individual may attempt to leave a ‘farewell note”.
He said sometimes, the person may try to ‘mask’ how he or she is feeling by putting on a false air of cheerfulness. But any sudden departure from a regular pattern of behavior, such as loss of interest in going to places of worship or socialising is worth further enquiry and a suggestion to seek professional help.
A previous suicide attempt is another important warning sign. Others may also indirectly make reference to a planned departure, telling people around goodbye and that ‘I know you won’t miss me,’ ‘I know nobody loves me,’ and can even start giving out their belongings.
He pointed out that these are the scenarios that should prompt empathy and not condemnation for the person.
According to Kadir, these are signs that should prompt action and even a reassessment of our relationship in the society. “It is not enough to be on social media groups together but we should pay attention to other people’s feelings and actions.”
Thus, the recent spate of suicide in Nigeria is only a wake -up call that beyond the façade of good appearance, many in the society like the late Dr. Orji go about with their bundle of worries.