Mental Health: Reps move to reduce incidence of suicide

The House of Representatives is disturbed by the rising cases of suicide in the country and has consequently taken steps to control the incidence. PHILIP NYAM reports


Suicide, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), is the fourth highest cause of death for people aged between 15 and 19 years globally. Unfortunately, Nigeria is caught deep into this sad development.



A few years back, Nigeria was ranked number 75 on the happiest people in the world index. But as at today, the country is said to be on 116th position.


According to WHO, the dwindling economy and the harsh economic situation of the country has made more Nigerians to contemplate suicide and even go as far as committing the act. This is a fact confirmed by psychologists who agreed that periods of economic depression lead to increase in suicide rates.


According to WHO, Nigeria has the highest rate of suicide and depression in Africa.

The current rate of suicide in Nigeria is 9.50 per cent out of 100, 000 people. The world health body also revealed that Nigeria has the highest suicidal rate among African countries in 2016 with over 17,000 lives lost to suicide. In a new report that estimated the cases of suicide globally, WHO noted that across the world, one person takes his or her life every 40 seconds.


The report was titled, “Suicide in the World: Global Health Estimates.” It was released ahead of the World Suicide Prevention day. Hanging, pesticide self-poisoning and shooting were the three commonest methods by which people commit suicide, the report reveals. WHO also discovered that 80 per cent of suicides occur among low-income earners. Suicide rates are higher in rural areas and semi-urban areas.


This shows that more poor people commit suicide than the rich and middle class. Even though low-income earners do not have time to think about their mental health, they are still faced with these challenges emboldened by the crumbling social and economic infrastructure. In Nigeria, attempting suicide is considered a crime, according to Section 327 of the Criminal Code.


But in Lagos state, the law has been amended to recommend treatment for such persons. In fact, Lagos is the only state in Nigeria to enact such a law. The rate of suicide among young people is said to be very high due to their troubling, adolescent activities as well as youthful exuberance.


A research carried out by a group of scientists who published their finding on Pub Med stated that “the mean age of the reported cases was 36.33 (15.48) years.” According to the research, “a majority of the reported cases were male (80.6 per cent), married (51.8 per cent), students (33.6 per cent), living in a semiurban area (40.3 per cent) and among the age group of 25-34 (25.3 per cent).”


The reasons given for these suicide rates were financial constraints and psychiatric illness. The suicide rate was also high among students, with more males attempting suicide than females.


The school environment comes with its attendant educational and social obligation, which can have an adverse effect on the student’s mental health.


Without adequate counselling and help from health care workers, family and friends, more and more young people  will see suicide as an escape route. It is believed that generally, men are less likely to speak up about their mental health and get help preferring to bottle up their feelings and “just be a man.”


Suicide in Nigeria is mainly done through the use of pesticides, the common one is a brand known as sniper, and others are through hanging, setting oneself on fire with kerosene, drowning and drug overdose.


Two researchers, Emmanuel Asogwa and John Onyezere from the University of Port Harcourt had this to say: “Nigerians have started to observe and feel seriously debris of economic recession.



This debris includes layoff/job losses, business closures, economic shock…unemployment, health spending cuts… psychological and behavioral morbidity, such as depression ,anxiety, substance use and abuse, violent behavior and suicide.”


Apparently worried by the frightening statistics, the House of Representatives penultimate week passed a motion on the “urgent need to address the rising  spate of suicide cases in Nigeria.”


The motion sponsored by the chairman of the House committee on Legislative Library, Hon. Jonathan Gbefwi Gaza was seconded by Hon. Anayo Nwonu. Gaza in leading the debate stated that cases of mental illness due to depression and social ills are on a steady rise, a development, he described as very worrisome.


He called on members to support the adoption of the motion in the spirit of improving national mental health awareness.


The lawmaker noted the prevalence of suicide cases in Nigeria, especially among youths between the ages of 15-29 years. He said statistics showing that one-fifth of suicide cases are of persons aged 13-19 years and over 50 per cent of the crisis calls received through hotlines are from youth aged 13- 29 and 27.8 per cent of them are students.


“According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), suicides and attempted suicide cases recorded in the 36 states of the Federation, including the FCT, were 333 and 196 respectively as of 2017, while other reports show that about 80 persons ended their lives between April 8, 2017, and May 12, 2019.


“Socio-economic factors contribute largely to mental illness such as depression, anxiety disorders, among others, which are on the increase are the leading causes of suicide in Nigeria,” he said.


Gaza submitted that he was concerned that the level of awareness of the Nigerian public on mental issues is very low as depression is one of the most ignored and misunderstood forms of mental disorders.


He stressed that although Nigeria has the highest number of mental cases in Africa, it has one of the lowest numbers of psychiatrists in the world with only about 250 of them providing mental health care in the entire country.


According to him, it is really disturbing that the only form of legislation on mental health is the Lunacy Ordinance enacted in 1916 that assumed the status of law in 1958. In adopting the motion, the House urged the Federal Ministry of Health to come up with a national strategy to address mental problems in Nigeria.


The lower chamber also resolved to set up an ad-hoc committee to review extant mental health laws to provide for proper care of affected persons in Nigeria and expedite action on measures aimed at protecting the rights of persons with a mental disorder, ensuring equal access to treatment and care, discouraging stigma and discrimination and set standards for psychiatric practice in Nigeria.


While the Green Chamber has been commended for the move, it remains to be seen how far the House of Representatives in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Health and other relevant bodies can go in trying to curtail if not eliminate the increasing rate of suicide in Nigeria.




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