Suicide, according to medical experts, is a serious health problem. It is currently said to be the third leading cause of death for teenagers between the ages of 15 and 24 years. However, depression, which is also a serious problem for adolescents, is one of the significant biological and psychological risk factor for youth suicide. While substance use remains extremely widespread among today’s youths, it is related to both suicide mission and depression. ISIOMA MADIKE, in this report, attempts to look at a combination of individual and societal factors that contribute to the surging trend of this malaise among the country’s undergraduates
With undergraduates’ suicides on the rise in Nigeria, a mother who lost her son a few months ago, but prefers to remain anonymous, described her son, Tony as a “typical” teenager. Tony, she said, was a 300-level student of Chemical Engineering in one of the universities in the Southwestern part of the country. He was an athlete, who led a youth group at a church. At the time of his death, she didn’t see that he was struggling, despite her job as a teacher and her degree in counselling.
“You don’t get an instruction booklet with kids,” she said, adding: “So you don’t know what’s normal or not normal.” Since her son’s death by suicide at the age of 21, she has devoted time to researching youth mental health and suicide prevention. She now recognises her son’s tendency toward perfectionism and recalled how he’d begun struggling in some of his courses at the university.
He had mild Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and had been prescribed medication that came with a side effect warning about potential suicidal thoughts in adolescents. She believes he might have planned suicide for some time before he left church early one Sunday, walked home alone and took his life. The keys for parents, she said, were listening and communicating.
“Be very honest about mental illness and different feelings. Listen to their emotions. If they are on any medication, it’s important that the adults in their life, including teachers, are aware and watching for changes in behaviour. Anything that is not typical of their ‘normal,’ is an opportunity to start a conversation.
And it’s important to be direct when you believe there is something wrong with your child or your student,” she said. Mental health professionals, she said, recommend asking directly if a young person is thinking about harming themselves. According to her, the health experts, see that as the best approach and won’t put ideas in their heads or otherwise make things worse. But beyond parents being vigilant and involved with their children’s mental health, she’d like to see schools start teaching coping behaviours earlier and offering more support groups for youngsters to share their feelings.
“There is the need to be a lot kinder and a lot more accepting of people’s differences,” she said. While the woman acknowledged that it can be hard for parents and teachers to connect with kids as technology changes, she, nonetheless, would like to see more youth-led programmes so that they can connect with people their own age in their own way about mental health.
“I think there is a disconnect with these kids. They live on social media. Faith communities also could do more to engage families in discussions about mental health. Suicide affects everyone,” she said. The distraught woman however, highlighted what she called the fantasy of life, which youths see with lofty dreams as they look into the future with great expectations. She said: “They usually don’t believe life could defeat them. So, they look forward to winning all life’s battles. But when their dreams begin to fade, depression sneaks in, with hope giving way to despair while sadness takes the place of joy in their hearts.
It is at this stage that they start thinking of death. Unfortunately, in their quest to escape the reality of life, they leave pains in the hearts of those who loved them.” Incidentally, many, including health 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. Suicide, according to them, is a serious health problem as they quoted global statics that suggests it is currently the third leading cause of death for teenagers and young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 years.
Apart from depression, which is said to be a serious problem for adolescents, and a significant biological and psychological risk factor for youth suicide, substance use remains extremely widespread and is related to both suicide mission and depression. Aside Tony, there have been many more in recent times.
The surging trend of reported cases of suicide by youths, with some of them announcing their intentions on the social media, has remained a major challenge for both parents and government. On June 8, a final year student of Ekiti State University (EKSU), Oluwafemi Akindeko, attempted suicide due to poor academic result. According to PREMIUM TIMES, Akindeko is a final year student of the Accounting Department. He was waiting for his results to be released so as to proceed for clearance for the National Youth Service Commission scheme.
When the result was released, it wasn’t what he was expecting; he failed one of his major courses, BUS 418, which he believed meant he would spend an extra year in school. Prior to his act, he made a series of post on his WhatsApp status, expressing displeasure and loss of hope.
In some of his posts, he said: “Everything about today is just bad… God help me. This month is not smiling. Why is today like this? God help me throughout this month. From June 1, everything hasn’t been good. All I want to do now is to commit a crime and be sentenced to life imprisonment. So, keep off, so you won’t fall a victim. “Life and education is something I don’t want again.
I guess going off is the best for now. I’m dropping this in case you call me and I’m not picking or you send a message and I’m not replying. Ire Ooooo! God be with the living. I regret ever coming to this world and I regret ever choosing to be educated. I swear. EKSU, you are cursed.”
He reportedly consumed sniper insecticide to die by suicide. Some of his friends also were quoted to have said that Akindeko cut himself before he was rushed to the hospital. The media was also awash with the story of another 300-level student of Medicine and Surgery at the Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences of the Niger Delta University, Amassoma in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, who died by suicide for failing his examination. The student, who was identified only as Ebiweni, reportedly dived into Amassoma River and drowned before help came.
He was said to be among the 22 students shortlisted to be withdrawn from the college for failing the Bachelor of Medicine exams beyond the level that they could be placed on academic probation for another academic year. Reports had it that the deceased could not absorb the disappointment that came with the news despite attending the counselling session organised by the university for the affected students before being asked to withdraw from the institution. He was also said to have dropped a hint about his suicidal intention through his WhatsApp status update. Another, a 22-year-old Chukwuemeka Akachi, of the Department of English and Literary Studies at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, also took his life in an unpleasant circumstance. Akachi, a native of Eha-Alumona in Nsukka Local Government Area of Enugu State, was said to have had a long battle with mental illness.
It was said that he had on two previous occasions drank kerosene and petrol in an attempt to kill himself but was rescued. In a bid to make him void the thought of taking his own life, two of his lecturers were said to have taken interest in counselling him, including creating opportunities to have leisure with him whenever they noticed a slight change in his countenance. But their efforts were not enough to dissuade him. There was also a 400-level Law student of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, identified simply as Ige. He reportedly killed himself at his residence outside the campus of the university a few days after his lover allegedly broke up with him.
It was 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. 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, an undergraduate, is also a member of the same fellowship. She was said to have broken up with Ige because of his poor background and could no longer cope with him.
This development, reports said, subjected Ige to emotional trauma. He was said to have threatened that he would die by suicide should his lover remain adamant on her decision before he finally took his life. He was described by some students as a person who lived a lonely life. In what is fast becoming a fad among students of higher learning in Nigeria, a 16-year-old 100-level student of Microbiology in a university in the South-East, identified simply as Mercy, also killed herself. 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 revealed that she killed herself due to financial pressures. One of her neighbours reportedly said she died after she took “rat poison mixed with battery extract.”
One of her friends said: “Mercy often isolated herself in class and looked depressed. She told me she was tired of living on his boyfriend. She actually struggled to meet up with her financial needs but the boyfriend tried to share the little he has with her. But as a woman, she felt she was becoming more of a burden to him.” Suicide rate among Nigeria’s undergraduates appears on the increase with sniper becoming a ready tool for them in such situation. However, many health experts have blamed poor understanding and treatment of stress and depression for the rampant malaise. Most people feel sad at times 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 one from living his or her life, it may be something more than sadness. At that point, they said, it could be clinical depression –a treatable medical condition. According to the DSM-5, a manual doctors use to diagnose mental disorders, one has 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, could vary. He also said that symptoms might happen in patterns. For example, depression, Gureje said, might 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, was 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.
“These 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 could affect life substantially, if they persist.” Another child and adolescent consultant psychiatrist, also at the UCH, Ibadan, Professor Olayinka Omigbodun, said there is a universal intervention in preventing depression and suicide in children and adolescent to promote mental health and wellbeing and child adolescent mental health. She called for the review of mental health laws to provide proper care for affected persons in Nigeria.
“We cannot talk about the proper treatment of mental health issues if we do not have a law to back it up and we also need to understand that mental health issues affect everyone,” she said, adding, “the burden of depression on adolescents affect their interpersonal relationships and could be linked to other problems including smoking, drug abuse, academic failure, physically inactive and secondary behavioural problems like truancy and stealing.” She defined depression as a mood disorder characterised by persistently low mood and a feeling of sadness and loss of interest. She said: “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. Omigbodun, 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,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.’ Dr. Raphael Ogbolu, also a consultant psychiatrist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi Araba, and coordinator, Suicide Research and Prevention Initiative (SURPIN), looked at the issue differently. He said that the youth are less traditional and are more likely to be single parents, but more entrepreneurial and into phones than television.
This, he attributes to the advent of social media. The advent of GSM meant that their popular mode of communication was less likely to be face-to-face, and as such “this generation more often lives in a virtual world where social media gained a lot of prominence.”
The Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Professor Moji Adeyeye, who was quoted by the Punch, looked at the direction of drug abuse. She said there was the need for parents and religious institutions to do more in discouraging youths from abusing drugs, especially controlled substances. She also called for the creation of more rehabilitation centres to cater for drug addicts. “We don’t have enough rehabilitation centres for our youths and people addicted to drugs. Right now, we have only 10 centres in the country.
We need like 10 centres in each geographical zone. We need to provide more rehabilitation centres.” The Spokesperson for the National Orientation Agency, Paul Ogenyi, however, blamed the incessant suicide cases on the disintegration of societal values including an increase in mental cases. He said in the past, people remained positive even when faced with financial crisis but the new culture of making money through any means and the glorification of money over values had made people to see money as a life or death matter. Ogenyi said, “Societal values have disintegrated and parents have failed. Also, institutions in charge of moulding the minds have also failed.” Clerics have also commented on the increasing rate of suicides among youths of the country. According to an Islamic scholar and lecturer at the Lagos State University, Ojo, Dr. Alayinde Yusuph, suicide is Haram; it is forbidden.
“You shouldn’t kill others let alone yourself. “Among the prohibited things in the Holy Quran, suicide is one of them because before the advent of Islam, the Arabs used to kill their daughters to run away from hardship. But the Holy Quran frowned at it. It is called Wabil jannat. So, the Holy Quran forbids it totally.” Yusuph, who aligned with Ogbolu, said because of the new media, adolescents of today were likely to have less social and interpersonal skills compared to the older generations. With this problem, he said, a lot of ‘make believe’ and fake personalities came into play.
He said: “For that reason, we now have children who will become sad because they cannot show off like their mates, even if they are fake. This in turn can affect their selfworth.” Also, the Senior Pastor, Transformation Chapel, Emmanuel Ohere, told Saturday Telegraph in a separate interview that as Christians, taking one’s own life was wrong and not biblical.
“No man or woman has the right to take his or her life; the messages and admonitions from the church, is also helping to curb the ugly incident. Unfortunately, the situation is made worse by a technological world where someone can create a photo-shopped image of a ‘beautiful’ person. What all this does is to diminish the self-esteem of a child who already lacks self-belief and confidence.
The clerics observed that adolescents attempting suicide by overdose at increasing rates was further evidence that the pervasive public health problem needs more conversation, money and experts. “The church, mosque and parents, should also be useful in this regard,” Ohere added.
MentalHealthNg, while confirming the reality of depression, which it acknowledged as a precursor to suicide, has advised people mounting pressure on singles to get married or couples who are childless, to desist from such attitude. It did not stop there but urged those asking fat people to slim down and slim people to eat so that they can get fat to also have a change of heart. Others are to stop body shaming people because, according to the organisation, abusers may not have any idea what others are passing through in life and that the best anyone could do is to have a nice thing to say to people as a way of encouraging them.
It equally advised ladies to be mindful of competitive life which, it said, did more harm than good. Fashion, it started, could come and go just like phones are evolving every day. It added: “People should be contented with the little they have at present while Nigerians should cultivate the habit of sharing their problems by talking to someone, especially medical experts, instead of taking their lives.”