By Azuka Onwuka
The incidence of suicide is on the rise in Nigeria. Nigerians used to boast about their resilience. No matter the situation, Nigerians had a way of making themselves happy and trudging on in life. No wonder Nigeria was named the happiest country on earth in 2003 by the UK-based New Scientific magazine.
The recent suicide of a pastor in Abuja, a university student in Nsukka, and a hair stylist in Lagos – all young people – made the issue more shocking. One even left a suicide note on the social media. Another young man who had a low score in the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination announced that he would drink poison on the social media, and actually showed himself live at the appointed time drinking poison. Friends stormed his house and took him to the hospital.
Even though some have argued that suicide in Nigeria was this widespread but was merely under-reported because of the absence of the social media, it does not sound plausible.
The social media did not get popular in Nigeria only a couple of years back. The social media has been vibrant in Nigeria for at least 10 years now. Suicide was not reported some seven years ago as often as it is reported today.
There are many factors which may have given rise to it. Economic factor is a strong point. With Nigeria going into recession in 2016, many people’s financial status was adversely hit. Those who could not take it felt that suicide was the only option. That was when the news of people jumping into the Lagos lagoon became popular.
There is also the factor of copying others. The social media has given people the power to tell their stories. Posting suicide notes or live video on the social media attracts much attention. Because one person has done it somewhere in another country or within Nigeria makes another want to copy it on the assumption that dying like that is heroic. But suicide is not heroic; it is escapist. Most people who survive suicide are usually shocked at the irrationality and illogicality of taking their life.
However, nobody attempts suicide at the spur of the moment, except in exceptional cases when people kill themselves to avoid being killed in a painful or shameful way. There are issues that make suicide happen. According to the World Health Organisation, mental disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorders, and substance abuse are risk factors.
In its own report on suicide, Mayo Clinic itemised some symptoms or warning signs about suicide or suicidal thoughts that people need to watch out for. They include:
Talking about suicide – for example, making statements such as “I’m going to kill myself,” “I wish I were dead” or “I wish I hadn’t been born.”Getting the means to take your own life, such as buying a gun or stockpiling pills, buying a rope or a poison.Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone.Having mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next.Being preoccupied with death, dying or violence.Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation.Increasing use of alcohol or drugs.Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns.Doing risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or driving recklessly.Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order when there’s no other logical explanation for doing this.Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again.Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated, particularly when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above.
However, it notes that while warning signs are not always obvious, they may vary from person to person. While some people make their intentions clear, others keep suicidal thoughts and feelings secret.
Mayo Clinic adds that suicidal thoughts have many causes: “Most often, suicidal thoughts are the result of feeling like you can’t cope when you’re faced with what seems to be an overwhelming life situation. If you don’t have hope for the future, you may mistakenly think suicide is a solution. You may experience a sort of tunnel vision, where in the middle of a crisis you believe suicide is the only way out. There also may be a genetic link to suicide. People who complete suicide or who have suicidal thoughts or behaviour are more
likely to have a family history of suicide.”
Depression has been identified as a critical factor in suicide. The American Psychiatric Association states that depression or major depressive disorder is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects the way a person feels, thinks and acts, noting that depression is also treatable. It adds: “Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home.”
Symptoms of depression vary from mild to severe and can include:
Feeling sad or having a depressed mood;Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed;Changes in appetite – weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting;Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much;Loss of energy or increased fatigue;Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others);Feeling worthless or guilty;Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions;Thoughts of death or suicide.
However, the American Psychiatric Association notes that symptoms must last at least two weeks for a diagnosis of depression. In addition, while observing that that depression should be differentiated from sadness or grief/bereavement, it warns that medical conditions (e.g., thyroid problems, a brain tumour or vitamin deficiency) can mimic symptoms of depression so it is important to rule out general medical causes.
However, the WHO states that effective suicide prevention efforts include limiting access to methods of suicide-such as firearms, drugs, and poisons; treating mental disorders and substance misuse; proper media reporting of suicide; and improving economic conditions.
Discussing the issue of suicide, Shola Ajayi of Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative (MANI) gives this piece of advice: “I’d like to share few things you can do when someone says they’re suicidal (even when it’s on Twitter and you feel the person is trying to seek attention. This is because you really can’t say when a suicidal ideation is real. And I understand that sometimes people genuinely want to help but don’t know what to do, so here goes:
“Put religious sentiments aside and try to avoid saying ‘It is well, you’ll be fine, God forbid. You’re too strong for this, you’ll overcome, you just need money.’ I know those are the Nigerian’s First Aid help phrases, so, avoid them. I can truly tell you they don’t help that much. I’d just roll my eyes as a suicidal person.
Get a close friend or family member to reach out to them or stay with them till that feeling passes. Send them sweet and encouraging text messages; tell them they can rant to you….”
Do not assume you know how to handle someone who is thinking of suicide. There are experts who are trained to do that. The best thing you can do for them is to give them a listening ear and not judge them or shut them up. Then you help them to seek expert care.
It is also important that suicide is not glamourised through the celebration of those who have committed suicide. In different cultures and religion, suicide is frowned upon.
When the suicide victims are gone, they no longer feel the pain or frustration that drove them to suicide. But they leave behind people who feel the pain, guilt and trauma of the painful death of suicide. If the bereaved are little children, they become orphaned and go through crushing want and pain, despising the soul of the parent that committed suicide and left them behind to suffer. If they are parents of the deceased, they feel shattered.
Finally, the police should avoid jumping to conclusions when a case of suicide is reported. Criminals may cash in on this by eliminating people and passing such off as suicide.
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