51 Nigerians died by suicide in five months, media reports
Triggers/signs of suicide
– Talking or writing about death
– Sense of hopelessness and helplessness
– No sense of purpose in life
– Withdrawal from friends, family, community
– Reckless behaviour or more risky activities
– Dramatic mood changes
– Mood disorders, alcoholism, substance misuse
– Previous suicide attempt(s)
– A history of suicide in the family
– Breakup of a relationship or a death
– Academic failures
– History of trauma or abuse
– Chronic physical illness
– Exposure to the suicidal behaviour of others
– Limiting access to methods of suicide
– Treating mental disorders and substance misuse
– Proper media reporting of suicide
– Improving economic condition
– Contacts with providers (follow-up phone calls
from healthcare professionals)
– Effective mental health care
– Easy access to a variety of clinical interventions
– Connections to individuals, family, communal
and social institutions
– Consultation with Ifa
There is a surging trend of Nigerians, especially the youth, dying by suicide. The rate adolescents take their lives could be evidence that the problem needs more conversation. ISIOMA MADIKE in this report looks at a combination of individual, relationship, communal and societal factors that contribute to the risk of this malaise
When Saturday Telegraph did a story in November 2015, in which President Muhammadu Buhari, officially declared the country broke and insolvent, medical experts, especially psychiatrists, predicted that many Nigerians might likely commit suicide as a measure to escape the quagmire. Nigerians, according to these experts, were apprehensive that the revelation may lead to quantum suicide among the populace. A consultant psychiatrist and deputy secretary, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Lagos State branch, Dr. Peters Ogunnubi, told this reporter then that the frank assessment of the country’s economy is likely to lead to “anomic” suicide. According to him, the health sector had been in shambles with non-functional equipment and jaundiced personnel that are unmotivated. Ogunnubi had said: “Even when Nigeria was not broke, hospitals had being mere consulting rooms.
There was no accessibility, availability and affordability of quality medicare for the mass majority of the people. This was what gave rise to medical tourism that is being experienced in droves. India has suddenly become the destination for quality medicare, which unfortunately, the poor majority in Nigeria cannot access because of the huge financial implications.
“Now that the president has come out frankly to admit what most people already know, it would definitely lead to both active and passive suicide. Where someone is unable to pay for simple things like malaria treatment, what do you think will happen? By mere thinking on how to get the high cost of treatment in hospitals that do not even have what it takes to treat such trivial ailments would on its own lead to death. I mean deathinduced by a state of hopelessness. This is what is going to happen if urgent steps are not taking to fix the economy back to shape.”
Today, events around the country are proving Ogunnubi and his colleagues right as depression, which is a byproduct of the hardship many are going through at the moment, has somewhat become the order of the day. Although mental health awareness is slowly becoming a mainstay of contemporary media, historically, Nigerians saw depression as “Whiteman’s sickness”. What is even more disturbing is the fact that the country’s youth are the most hit. On May 19, Sunday Punch reported a heart-rending story of a 25-year-old Chidike Onyeka, who graduated from Madonna University, Okija, Anambra State. Onyeka was said to have returned to his parents who lived in the Aguda area of Lagos State after the compulsory one-year National Youth Service Corps programme.
Shortly after reuniting with his family members, Onyeka began showing signs of depression, according to the report. His mother, the report added, realised almost immediately her son was no longer his usual self. He had become withdrawn and was seen always staring at nothing in particular for minutes with a distant expression. This indicated that Onyeka was in a world of his own.
He started refusing all requests, especially from his siblings, whenever they offered to take him out. He would insist on being left alone. He became constantly unhappy and his actions suggested he was worried about his joblessness. When the dejection symptom persisted, Onyeka was taken to a hospital to see a general practitioner instead of a psychiatrist, who, most probably would have been able to deal with his case professionally.
But the young man died. His sudden death was a rude shock to his mother, especially because she saw her son in a pool of his blood in the kitchen with a knife which he used to rip his bowels open. The old woman had, as usual, woken up at midnight to see if the house doors were locked and no electrical appliances left on. What she saw made her to conclude that her son may have died by suicide. But Onyeka’s case was not an isolated one.
Temitope Saka, a 17-year-old girl, also died after drinking the now infamous Sniper, in the Igando area of Lagos State. She was said to have become pregnant and her grandma insisted she pack out of the house. Earlier, another 19-yearold girl, Uche Obiora, had done the same at her boyfriend’s house, which is a street away from Saka’s grandmother’s house. As if in competition, Chukwuemeka Akachi, a 400-level student of the Department of English and Literary Studies, at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, equally died by suicide a few days after Obiora took her life. It was gathered that Akachi took the action in the secluded uncompleted building located at Sullivan Road, Nsukka, where he allegedly slipped into coma after taking two bottles of insecticides.
Another 300 level medical student of the Niger Delta University, Uzakah Timi Ebiweni, was also reported to have killed himself in Bayelsa State. According to SaharaReporters, Ebiweni took a plunge into a river close to the university campus, Amassoma, located in the Southern Ijaw area council of the state after failing his examination. About 50 students, out of the 169 who sat for the Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) examination, were not successful, the report added. Equally shocking was the death of another 300 level student of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State. The student, reports said, took her life in her hostel. She left behind a suicide note which seemed to suggest she led a troubled life.
Incidentally, suicide actions are not limited to students or the young alone. A senior lecturer with the Biological Sciences Department of the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, died by suicide, after it seemed like he had issues with his marriage. Within the same period, a soldier in the Nigerian Army, a staff sergeant attached to 192 Battalion in Gwoza, also ended his life in circumstances that suggested suicide in Borno State.
Within 72 hours, according to reports, more than seven Nigerians, adults and adolescents alike had decided to end their journey on earth in a manner that is now given everyone concern. With an average of one death every 40 seconds, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), suicide is topping the chart as the number one killer. Although this index is global, the incidents in the past weeks have shown that many Nigerians have died by suicide than in previous times. Many of the deaths however, are kept away from the public arena.
Taboos and the stigma attached to the issue conspire to hush up incidence of suicides. Yet, it should worry everyone who cares that far too many of the country’s youth are taking their own lives in such a tragic manner. One of those concerned at present is the founder of a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), The Mind And Soul Helpers Initiative (MASHI) and Head, English Department, University of Lagos, Professor Hope Eghagha. He lamented that stigmatisation around mental health issue is indeed fueling the scourge. Once people know that one visited a psychiatrist for help, according Eghagha, they will think of madness, if it is in the office they look at the person in a strange way.
Eghagha told The Guardian that when people have a psychological breakdown there are all kinds of reason attributed to it. The most popular one in the country, according to him, is the spiritual attack. The Guardian quoted him to have said: “Sometimes, they say you have offended the ancestors or the village people, that you have com- mitted an act of taboo. You find some highly placed educated people still peddling such ignorance. We realised that one thing we need to do is to educate people that mental health is very important and mental health crisis can affect anybody without committing any offence and it does not need to be a spiritual attack,” he said.
The Ifa angle However, what the professor insinuated, was how Chief Omo-Oba Olorunwa Ayekonilogbon, a priest of Ifa deity, explained the issue in an interview with Saturday Telegraph. Ayekonilogbon thinks science may never have solution to the issue of suicide. To the Ifa priest, only one theory could suffice in this case. He said: “It is simple; people are being controlled. 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. 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.” The Ifa priest explained that many, especially the youth, are dying in their numbers because of lack of knowledge.
“There is solution to all these. People need to come back home, get to us, so we can consult Ifa. It is the oracle that has the solution to this malady. Isn’t it clear to the doubting Thomases that science and orthodox medicine have failed? If those are the places the solutions are, why the surge in suicide? When people come to us, we consult Ifa for solutions; that’s the way. We should just stop deceiving ourselves.”
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. “The traditional belief behind suicide is that some people do not just die by the act, 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 help solve the riddle. It could be diagnosed through a session of Ifa consultation. When a person consults Ifa, the past, present and future will be revealed,” 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 further said that 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.
“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. 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.
Yet, a consultant psychiatrist, University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, Professor Oye Gureje, insists orthodox medicine has an answer to depression which often leads to suicide. He believes the best way to encourage and help those in that state is first by eliminating mental health stigma so that people could seek treatment and boost their quality of life. Gureje added that the challenge with depression is that people who are affected are not aware of their conditions, let alone getting treatment
He said: “It is also unfortunate that most symptoms will present themselves like malaria and before one will understand exactly what is happening, depression would have eaten deep. Symptoms of mental health include irritable mood, low concentration, low self-esteem, guilt, among others.”
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 affects 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.”
Dr. Raphael Ogbolu, a consultant psychiatrist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi Araba, and coordinator, Suicide Research and Pre vention Initiative (SURPIN), looked at the issue differently when he spoke with The Guardian.
He said that there are peculiarities of those between the ages 13 and 35. Ogbolu described the period they live in as the Millennials and Generation Z. He said the Millennials (Generation Y) are considered to be those born between 1980 and 1994, most of who were raised by single parents, and are technologically wise. According to the psychiatrist, Generation Z (post-Millennials, iGeneration, Gen Tech, Digital Native) are those born between 1995 and 2010/2014. They are less traditional and are more likely to be single parents, and are more entrepreneurial, more into phones than television. He said that what these two generations have in common is arguably the advent of social media and the Millennials are likely to have reached adulthood around year 2000 about the time GSM came into Nigeria.
This meant, according to him, that their popular mode of communication was less likely to be face-to-face, and as such both generations more often lived in a virtual world where social media gained a lot of prominence. Another consultant psychiatrist at the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology Teaching Hospital (LAUTECH), Osogbo, Osun State, Dr. Suleiman Babatunde, has also said that depression and anxiety are the major symptoms of a regressing economy the world over and Nigeria, is not an exception. For Dr. Saheed Bello, family physi cian also at LAUTECH, the country’s very bad economic state is obvious.
He believes that the economic situation has greatly affected and would even affect the citizens the more in the coming months. “Many people cannot afford their bills. As it is now, government seemed not to be concerned. And the situation affects other sectors of the economy too. We now have many beggars on the streets and at the market level, goods are out of the reach of many with little money at their disposal to spend. All of these has summed up to increase mortality because people can no longer afford simple things like malaria drugs.”
The Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Professor Moji Adeyeye, who was quoted by the Punch, said there was a 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 geo-graphical 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 in Nigeria. 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 are 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 come 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 self-worth.”
Also, the Senior Pastor, Transformation Chapel, Emmanuel Ohere, told Saturday Telegraph in a separate interview that as Christians, taking one’s own life is wrong and not biblical. “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.
“Cyber bullying is another accompaniment of social media, which these young people have to now deal with. People who would not ordinarily be bold enough to abuse and bully others are now able to do so in the virtual world, and this has precipitated depression and suicidal thoughts among children who are less resilient,” Ohere said. The clerics observed that adolescents attempting suicide by overdose at increasing rates is 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,” Yusuph added. MentalHealthNg, while confirming the reality of depression, which it acknowledges 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, they 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 ad-vised ladies to be mindful of competitive life which, it said, does more harm than good.
Fashion it started will 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.”
In 2017, WHO said 7,079,815 Nigerians suffered from depression, one of the most ignored and misunderstood forms of mental disorder in the country. The figure, according to the world health body, was 3.9 per cent of the country’s population, thereby making Nigeria the most depressed country in Africa. Despite having the largest number of mental cases in Africa, Nigeria, the report said, has one of the lowest numbers of psychiatrists in the world. By July 2018, Spectator Index, published a WHO study which ranked suicides per 100,000 cases. According to the report, Nigeria has 15 per cent per 100,000, ranking as the 5th highest rate of suicide in the world. And in 2019, World Health Statistics by WHO rated by country, placed Nigeria at 9.5 suicides per 100.
This tallied with the World Population Review, which stated that Nigeria, with a crude suicide rate of 9.5 per 100, 000 population ranks 10th in Africa and 67th in the world. Suicide, according to experts, is the act of intentionally causing one’s own death. Mental disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorders, and substance abuse—including alcoholism and the use of benzodiazepines— are risk factors. Some suicides though are impulsive acts due to stress, such as from financial difficulties, troubles with relationships, or bullying. While other causes like terminal diseases can lead to resignation and then suicide, it is common knowledge that 90 per cent of people who commit suicide suffer from mental illness.
Those who have previously attempted suicide, experts said, are at a higher risk for future attempts. While effective suicide prevention efforts should include limiting access to methods of suicide—such as firearms, drugs, and poisons; treating mental disorders and substance misuse; proper media reporting of suicide as well as improving economic conditions. Media and police reports have said that over 51 cases of those who die by suicide was recorded in the last five months in Nigeria. Although many believed this to be an economical figure as many other incidents occur without being reported. Even at that, medical experts now rank suicide among the leading cause of death in the country presently.