It’s mental illness, nothing to be ashamed of – Gureje, professor of psychiatry
Many people, including medical experts, seem to agree on depression as the possible cause of most suicide incidents. Hopelessness, feelings of guilt, loss of interest, insomnia, and low self-esteem are some of the most popular symptoms of depression. And while effective prevention and treatment of such mood disorders have been known to reduce the scourge, however, ignorance and stigmatisation often prevents depressed patients from accessing needed treatment, especially in this part of the world. Yet, two renowned Ifa priests, perhaps unsurprisingly, maintain a different stance from the arguments canvassed by orthodox experts. ISIOMA MADIKE, in this report, aggregates these opinions.
Suicide seems to be rampant these days among Nigerians, especially students of higher institutions across the federation. It cuts across sex, religion and ethnicity. For instance, a student of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Faculty of Technology, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, identified simply as Kolapo was said to have ended his life abruptly on Sunday when many were celebrating Easter. According to a source, Kolapo took his life after he repeatedly failed some courses. Saturday Telegraph learnt that Kolapo had battled frustration and depression over courses he borrowed and failed from both the departments of Civil Engineering and Computer Science.
The source, who is a student of the institution, said some of his close friends claimed they had, on many occasions approached him for counseling anytime he was worried, but he usually hesitated to corporate with them. “They had always lent him a helping hand by telling him never to give up,” the source said, adding, “He was an executive in his department association. Kolapo was supposed to have graduated with the 2016/2017 session, but for the failed courses.”
Another, known only as Ige, a 400-level Law student of the same institution also committed suicide at his residence outside the campus of the university, according to reports, few days after his lover allegedly broke up with him. It was authoritatively gathered that Ige, said to be above average academically by his colleagues, was found dead in his apartment at Asherifa area, a stone’s throw from the campus, not too long ago. His suicide note, reads in part: “Father, while reading this message, I would have been gone” before he allegedly ingested some substance later discovered to be poison. He was said to be a member of the Christ Apostolic Church Fellowship on campus and had met the lady who was said to have financed his education for over eight months of their relationship before the bubble burst. The lady, also a member of the same fellowship, was said to have broken up with Ige because of his poor background and could no longer cope with him.
This development, according to reports, subjected him to emotional trauma. He was said to have threatened that he would commit suicide should his lover remain adamant on her decision before he finally took his life. Ige was described by some students as a person who lived a lonely life. Before then, a 16-year-old 100-level student of Microbiology at the same school, identified only as Mercy, had killed herself. According to Premium Times report, Mercy allegedly took ‘Sniper’ days after she wrote on Facebook that she wanted to see God’s face and speak with him face to face. Her fellow students and a neighbour, according to the report, revealed that Mercy killed herself due to poor grade. One of her neighbours, which the report quoted, said she died after she took “rat poison mixed with battery extract.”
She lived off-campus at Sabo area of Ile-Ife, at the time of her death. She was said to have died of “emotional pressure” after she had ‘E’ in CHM 101 (Chemistry for first year students), a reportedly dreaded course for year one students in the science and technology-related faculties. One of her friends said: “Mercy often isolated herself in class and looked depressed. She told me she had ‘E’ in CHM101 and was going around unhappy before the incident.” In what is fast becoming a fad among students of higher learning in Nigeria, Niyi, who was studying microbiology from the University of Lagos, allegedly committed suicide also because he had failed some of his courses in 2018. His was said to be the second time a student from the department of microbiology in UNILAG committed suicide in a space of three years. Niyi’s sudden death came some weeks after another final year B. Agric student of Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Abia State, was found dead in his room.
He was said to have committed suicide by hanging. From Abia to Nsukka where another final year student killed himself in 2016, it’s been harvest of suicides for Nigerian students. The final year student of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, was studying Agric Economics before he took his life. But this time around, the young man reportedly killed himself over a debt. Some reports speculated that he may have lost some money to betting. There was also a student of the Niger Delta University in Bayelsa State, identified simply as Daniel, who was said to have died after reportedly drinking Sniper (a deadly insecticide) upon discovering that he had about four carryovers. Daniel was rushed to the Tantua Hospital, Amassoma, according to reports, where it was realised that he had drank the whole bottle.
At that point, all efforts to save him, proved ineffective. His sister, identified only as Deborah, later took to her Facebook page to pay tribute to her brother. She wrote: “What a painful exit. That you’re no longer here will always cause me pain but you’re forever in my heart.” Also in 2016, a young student decided to end his life after he reportedly failed the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME). The unidentified young man could not live with the fact that he could not make the cut off marks in the examinations and felt the only way out was to end it all. But students are not alone in this suicide missions.
Just recently, a University of Ibadan lecturer allegedly set self-ablaze after resignation. The Kaduna- born lecturer at the department of Mathematics, A.O Subair, reportedly set himself on fire at his resident, Phillipson Road, at the campus. The late lecturer, who tendered his resignation letter without any justifiable reason, had not evacuated his belongings from the staff quarters before deciding to kill himself. It was gathered that he had separated from his family and had challenges progressing in his career.
A member of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), UI chapter, described the incident as pathetic while urging others to always confide in one another. He added that isolation could deepen depression. In January, an unidentified middleaged man was equally found hanging from a tree on Catholic Mission Road, opposite the Court of Appeal on Lagos Island. The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), which reported the incident, said the man, clad in Ankara native attire, was found hanging on a rope which looked like a braided long scarf, tied to a fruit tree.
NAN correspondent, who was at the scene of the suspected suicide, reported that the episode drew the attention of a horde of people, who stood in groups chatting and wondering what could have pushed the man to hang himself. A popular Lagos Disc Jockey (DJ) had also committed suicide in the same January. The DJ was said to have deliberately wore white in the photos he attached to his suicide note instead of black because white was his favourite colour. He reportedly took sniper to end his life about six hours after he posted a suicide note on Instagram. He had apologised to his children and mother but did not state the reason for his action in the suicide note. Investigations however, suggested that the DJ had been having marital issues before his untimely death. “My Mum should forgive me for my action; it was a deliberate act,” he wrote.
He also called on his younger siblings to forgive him because he had to do what he did. A 22-year-old Chika similarly committed suicide in Ubaekwem community in Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State recently. The deceased of Umuanasa clan, reportedly hung on a family mango tree for yet-to-be ascertained reason. Chika, according to The Nation, was an active youth in the Umuezekwe political ward of Ihiala LGA.
A family member, who preferred anonymity, told The Nation reporter that the act might not be unconnected to spiritual liberation defect due to the recurring suicide incidents that plague the family. The source said: “He was a single unemployed young man who had completed his SSS exams, with the hope to excel in business after schooling. One of his uncles also committed suicide at youthful age decades ago. The family had to subject itself to spiritual cleansing to avert recurrence of the unfortunate incident.” But one suicide that shook the nation to its foundation a few years back was that of Allwell Chiawolamoke Oji.
His tragic death reverberated across Nigeria with many giving suggestions on why the young doctor, who was widely viewed as successful by Nigerian standard, did what he thought was best for him. Incidentally, there has not been any consensus on the possible cause of the act since the incident happened. However, in all the suicide occurrences highlighted above, there seems to be the connecting line of depression, which many are ignorant of and as such lack the needed knowledge to deal with it.
Most people feel sad or depressed at times, according to medical experts, but believe it’s a normal reaction to loss or life’s struggles. Yet, experts said that when intense sadness — including feeling helpless, hopeless, and worthless — lasts for many days to weeks and keeps you from living your life, it may be something more than sadness, at that point, they said, one could have clinical depression –a treatable medical condition.
According to the DSM-5, a manual doctors use to diagnose mental disorders, one have depression when five or more of these symptoms last for at least two weeks: A depressed mood during most of the day, especially in the morning, feeling tired or having a lack of energy almost every day, feeling worthless or guilty almost every day and a hard time focusing, remembering details, and making decisions. Others are sleeplessness or sleeping too much almost every day, having almost no interest or pleasure in many activities nearly every day, thinking often about death or suicide (not just a fear of death), feeling restless or slowed down, lost or gained weight. WebMD also shows that sadness, sleeping problems, irritability, and more may be signs to seek help for depression.
It could equally occur when one feels irritable and restless, overeat or stop feeling hungry, have aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that don’t go away or get better with treatment, feeling sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings. While these symptoms are common, not everyone with depression will have the same ones, said Oye Gureje, a Professor of Psychiatry and Director, WHO Collaborating Centre for Research and Training in Mental Health, Neuroscience, Drug and Alcohol Abuse, University of Ibadan. How severe they are, how often they happen, and how long they last, he said, can vary.
He also said that symptoms may happen in patterns. For example, depression, Gureje said, may come with a change in seasons (a condition formerly called seasonal affective disorder). However, it’s not uncommon for people with depression to have physical signs of the condition, he added. They may include, according to him, joint pain, back pain, digestive problems, sleep trouble, and appetite changes. One might have slowed speech and movements, too.
The reason, the experts said, is that brain chemicals linked to depression, specifically serotonin and norepinephrine, play a role in both mood and pain. He said: “Depression may have other specific features, such as anxious distress. That is worrying a lot about things that might happen or about losing control. Another typical feature is when one can feel good after happy events, but also feel hungrier, need to sleep a lot, and are sensitive to rejection. It could also be psychotic in which one believes things that aren’t true, or see and hear things that aren’t there.”
Other experts in the field of psychiatry have listed the symptoms to include sadness, feeling down, having a loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities. These, they said, are familiar to everyone but that only a few people would see it as mental issue that would require the attention of those trained to deal with such challenges. These, they believe, could affect life substantially, if they persist. In contrast, some Ifa priests, have diffused such insinuations when they said that suicide is mostly caused by evil manipulations and because people often live in denial, solutions have somewhat become essential community with many dying at the times they were not supposed to die.
Yet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has said that 7.6 per cent of people over the age of 12 have depression in any twoweek period. This, according to CDC, is substantial and shows the scale of the issue. To the World Health Organisation (WHO), depression is the most common illness worldwide, and the leading cause of disability. They estimate that 350 million people are affected by depression, globally. Gureje said that depression is mental illness, which no one should be ashamed of. He believes that ignorance and stigma attached to mental health are the drivers of the scourge which often leads to suicide. He said: “We live in denial in this part of the world. When people are going through depression, they usually would first want to reject such suggestion, some may even take to prayers instead of seeking medical attention. But again, we attach stigma to mental issues in this clime.
“Imagine seeing someone around where people refer to as ‘Yaba left’, immediately such a person would be termed ‘mad’. Yet, this is one issue that could easily be nipped in the bud if professionals trained to handle such are called in on time. It’s something therapy or medication could solve.” Gureje, who said that depression seems to be more common among women than men, listed other symptoms to include lack of joy and reduced interest in things that used to bring person happiness. He though said that life events, such as bereavement, produce mood changes that can usually be distinguished from the features of depression.
The causes of depression, he further said, are not fully understood but are likely to be a complex combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychosocial factors. Another professor of psychiatry, College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, Olayinka Omigbodun, said that diagnosis for depression should start with a consultation from a mental health expert. She defined it as a mood disorder characterised by persistently low mood and a feeling of sadness and loss of interest. “It is a persistent problem, not a passing one, lasting on average 6 to 8 months. Diagnosis of depression starts with a consultation with a doctor or mental health specialist.
It is important to seek the help of a health professional to rule out different causes of depression, ensure an accurate differential diagnosis, and secure safe and effective treatment. “As for most visits to the doctor, there may be a physical examination to check for physical causes and coexisting conditions. Questions will also be asked – ‘taking a history’ – to establish the symptoms, their time course, and so on. Some questionnaires help doctors to assess the severity of depression,” Omigbodun said. The experts however, pointed out that depression is different from the fluctuations in mood that people experience as a part of normal life. “Temporary emotional responses to the challenges of everyday life do not constitute depression.
“Likewise, even the feeling of grief resulting from the death of someone close is not itself depression if it does not persist. Depression can, however, be related to bereavement – when it follows a loss, psychologists call it a ‘complicated bereavement.’ There are other signs and symptoms. For instance, “delayed psychomotor skills, for example, slowed movement and speech fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness or guilt impaired ability to think, concentrate, or make decision, recurrent thoughts of death or suicide, or attempt at suicide are others,” Gureje added. He said that depression is likely to be due to a complex combination of factors that include: Genetics, biological, which are changes in neurotransmitter levels, environmental, psychological and social (psychosocial). Some people, he said, are at higher risk of depression than others with risk factors such as life events: These include bereavement, divorce, work issues, relationships with friends and family, financial problems, medical concerns, or acute stress. It could also be personality in which case those with less successful coping strategies or previous life trauma are more susceptible.
For genetic factors, having firstdegree relatives with depression increases the risk; childhood trauma also. Some prescription drugs, including corticosteroids, beta-blockers, interferon, and other prescription drugs could cause one to be depressed. Also, abuse of recreational drugs, abuse of alcohol, amphetamines, are strongly linked to depression. A past head injury or having had one episode of major depression could also increase the risk of a subsequent one, while chronic pain syndromes and other chronic conditions, such as diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cardiovascular disease make depression more likely.
Counseling or therapy may help a person manage the symptoms of depression. It is a treatable mental illness, experts insist. There are three components to the management of depression: Support, ranging from discussing practical solutions and contributing stresses, to educating family members. There is psychotherapy, also known as talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Another is drug treatment, specifically antidepressants. Suicide, experts said, is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally for all ages. Unfortunately, it is difficult to prevent, in large part because the prevalence of risk factors is high among the general population.
This may be the reason Chief Omo-Oba Olorunwa Ayekonilogbon, the priest of Ifa deity, thinks science may never have solution to the issue of suicide. To the Ifa priest, such a theory could just be a smokescreen. Traditionally speaking, he said, only one theory could suffice in this case. Ayekonilogbon said: “It is simple; people are being controlled using an African traditional technique. This is Africa where a lot of happenings cannot be explained by science. There is African science which people use to manipulate the destinies of others. Some use it for good while others use it to cause harm and change destinies. It is called African remote control.
So, when issues like this are in focus, it can only be unlocked through the traditional means. Anything short of that is mere waste of time.” Also, Chief Yemi Elebuibon, another well-known Ifa priest, spoke in a manner that suggests that people could actually be programmed (hypnotized) to do what they were asked to do. Eedi, he explained, is a bad omen in Yoruba land. “It is a great offence for a person to commit suicide; an abomination.
Whoever does that is considered to have brought dishonour to his/her family. Yet, the traditional belief behind suicide is that some people do not just commit the act on their own, but for some mystical interventions.
“However, some people could find themselves in critical and unpleasant situations, and opt for suicide as the last resort instead of living to face the problem. Whenever it happens, proper inquiry is set up, and an Ifa priest is mostly called upon to prescribe atonement to cleanse the city,” he said. Elebuibon nevertheless agreed that it is possible for a person to harm himself or herself without any diabolical undertone. “We live in a world where we all have personal battles. We tend to overcome them each time they arise as a result of our mental strength but sometimes they conquer us. When this happens, a person may consider suicide as his/ her last resort,” the priest told Saturday Telegraph. He said it could be diagnosed through a session of Ifa consultation. When a person consults Ifa, according to him, the past, present and future will be revealed.
“Ifa gives warning about incoming dangers and the priest analyses the root cause of a certain predicament. Signs of hypnotism can range from change in attitude, manner of speaking and so on and only people close to the person can discover this. “However, a person suspected or confirmed to be under hypnotism should seek help immediately as failure will wreak havoc and may eventually lead to awful death of the particular person and many others. Without proper spiritual care, sometimes, the repercussions of some actions can influence a person’s life negatively. Such a person will begin to act under the control of mystical forces,” Elebuibon added. The renowned traditionalist also said there is history of suicide in Ifa mythology and that hypnotism can only be prevented through constant consultation with Ifa for spiritual fortification.