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Nigeria and the burden of suicide cases

Why are some people willing to kill themselves? I mean, why would anyone want to jump into the Lagos lagoon or ingest a poisonous substance…

Why are some people willing to kill themselves? I mean, why would anyone want to jump into the Lagos lagoon or ingest a poisonous substance just to end it all, not minding the after effects? Why would a young man or lady decide that killing himself/herself is the best? These questions are begging for answers.

A few years ago, while conversing with a friend in Kaduna State, he recounted a heartbreaking story about a schoolmate of his who tragically ended his life by jumping into a river. The reasons behind his action remained a mystery. Though it was evident that he was struggling, especially when compared to his peers from university.

This incident brings to light the silent struggles faced by many individuals, often concealed under the appearance of normalcy. While social pressure to live up to certain standards of success can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and inadequacy, particularly in young people who are just starting to make the transition from school to adulthood, the stigma associated with mental health problems keeps many away from getting the much-needed support.

The menace of suicide cuts across age, gender, and socioeconomic status, particularly with the nation’s economic situation in recent times, which has taken most basic commodities beyond the reach of many Nigerians.

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Though it did not begin today, a World Health Organisation (WHO) 2016 report states that Nigeria is one of the epicentres of suicide in the world. The organisation’s report also reveals that over 700,000 people die by suicide worldwide annually, and for every suicide, there are usually many more attempted suicides.

According to WHO, suicide was the fourth leading cause of death among 15–29-year-olds globally in 2019, and 77 percent of all suicides happened in low- and middle-income countries.

The report further noted that almost 20 percent of global suicides were due to pesticide self-poisoning.

Also, data by the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) reveals that 82 cases of suicide were recorded in Lagos State alone between January and July 2023. Twenty-two of these cases were recorded in July alone. This data is worrisome, despite Nigeria labelling suicide attempts a criminal offence.

The youth are the future of the nation, so their loss not only deprives Nigeria of its next generation but also speaks volumes about the deep-rooted challenges facing today’s youth.

From academic pressure to unemployment, work pressure, mental health stigma, societal pressures, economic hardship, broken relationships, and financial stress, among others, many Nigerians are grappling with a myriad of stressors that often go unnoticed or unaddressed.

Nigeria’s N30,000 minimum wage has become very ridiculous in view of the reality on the ground. Food, which is the most essential human need, is now difficult to purchase due to the rapid depreciation of the purchasing power of the naira. The meagre salaries of many Nigerians can no longer meet their most basic needs, as a result of which many live in debt.

In the midst of the hardship, tenants are battling with rising house rents from landlords, who also have their own costs to battle with. Even the cost of transportation keeps rising due to a hike in fuel prices; school fees are increasing, to say the least. Nigerians are indeed financially stressed and struggling to survive at this time.

“Nigerians are finding it difficult to breathe.”.

Sadly, not everyone has the capability to withstand the economic turbulence gripping our nation. While some may resort to some forms of illegality to make ends meet, a few who cannot ‘soil their hands’, (get involved in dubious acts), may decide to just end it by taking their lives. There is a limit to which individuals can endure hardship.

Little wonder then that, on January 11, a 32-year-old marketing employee of a bank in Lagos, Amarachi Ugochukwu, committed suicide. She was said to have ingested a poisonous substance within the bank premises, which led to her death.

Amarachi’s suicide note sums up the challenges facing the average Nigerian youth today. “Nothing is working in my life. My figures are low. My brain is clogged up. The economy is getting harder. My decisions are wrong. My mind is messed up. The future doesn’t seem bright at all. I see extreme hardship. I can’t bear the pain anymore. I am sorry, mom; I am sorry, dad; I am sorry, Nene, Okwe, Toto, Nazor, Chuchu, and Ifunanya. Dear Lord, have mercy on me.”

Four days after that happened, an operative of the Nigerian Army, attached to the 35 Artillery Brigade, Alamala, Abeokuta, Ogun State, Boyi ThankGod, allegedly shot himself in the head and died immediately.

Last month, a 400-level female student at Kwara State University, Rashidat Shittu, reportedly committed suicide. She died after ingesting a poisonous chemical in her hostel room.

Report from the university revealed that she took her life due to poor academic performance, which she had earlier complained about to her friends.

Also recently, a 300-level student in the Nursing department of Harvarde College of Science, Business and Management Studies, Obada in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Ajoke, allegedly committed suicide on learning that the State Government had sealed her department for offering a degree programme in Nursing sciences for six years without accreditation. Her colleagues said they suspected she consumed a poisonous substance.

Suicide, which was once considered a taboo, is now part of us, forcing its way into national conversations and demanding urgent attention from policymakers, mental health advocates, employers, institutions, and society at large.

This silent epidemic not only poses significant implications for individuals and families but also casts a dark shadow over the nation’s collective well-being. It represents a profound loss to loved ones, families, and society, robbing Nigeria of its potential innovators, leaders, and contributors.

A consultant psychiatrist, Taiwo Obindo recently stated that some Nigerians might be prone to developing mental health conditions due to the visible hardships in the country. While he identified the high cost of living, kidnapping, financial problems, inflation, child abuse, rape, broken homes, and traumatic experiences among others as social factors contributing to mental health issues; he quoted statistics from WHO, that, ‘no fewer than 64 million Nigerians have one form of depression or the other.’

The founder of Loretta Health Initiative (LHI), Dr Loretta Ogboro-Okor, a UK-based consultant and medical simulator had earlier in an interview with Vanguard Newspaper explained that when economic situations go sour, and when there is inflation or general downturn of the economy, there is bound to be a huge period of stress on the population. According to her, this situation will trigger hormones that are magnified in periods of stress, which will worsen not just the physical health condition of people, but also their mental health conditions.

Beyond the realm of mental health, the suicide crisis permeates various sectors of society and undermines the nation’s development.

Economically, suicide represents a loss of human capital and productivity; socially, it erodes trust, cohesion, and solidarity, fostering a culture of fear and helplessness.

Also, politically, it underscores the failure of governance to address the underlying drivers of despair and depression.

To combat the scourge of suicide effectively, Nigeria must adopt a comprehensive and multifaceted approach that addresses its root causes while also providing support and resources to those in need.

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu must, as a matter of urgency, rise to address hunger in the land, the high cost of living, and make life comfortable for every Nigerian. Measures to help citizens navigate this turbulent times must be quickly put in place so as to pave the way for a brighter and more prosperous future.

Also, the underlying injustices, inequalities, and neglect that drive individuals to despair must be addressed because, when life becomes too tough, people who do not have the shock absorber to bear the weight may slip into depression and contemplate suicide.

The government must also deliberately invest in mental health infrastructure and de-stigmatize conversations around mental illness.

WHO says, “Suicide is a serious public health problem; however, are preventable with timely, evidence-based and often low-cost interventions. For national responses to be effective, a comprehensive multi-sectoral suicide prevention strategy is needed.”

This means that there is a need for collaboration and coordination among government agencies, civil society organisations, religious institutions, and other stakeholders to ensure that no one is left behind in the quest for mental well-being.

Additionally, resilience-building programmes must be promoted in schools, workplaces, and communities, while educators and employers must be cautioned against mounting undue pressure on learners and employees, respectively. Schooling and working should, as much as possible, be made fun and interesting.

The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and other relevant agencies must ensure control of sale of the killer chemical called ‘sniper’ in open markets. Since the ban imposed on its sale in 2019 doesn’t seem to be working, government should consider other steps.

Equally important is the role of the media in shaping public discourse and challenging societal norms around mental health and suicide. Journalists have a responsibility to report these issues sensitively and accurately, avoiding sensationalism and the undue glorification of suicide while amplifying stories of hope, recovery, and resilience.

Ultimately, addressing the rising cases of suicide in Nigeria requires a collective effort that transcends political, cultural, and ideological divides. It demands empathy, compassion, solidarity and not jail term, a recognition of our shared humanity, and a commitment to creating a society where every life is valued, cherished, and supported.

The laws that currently penalise citizens who try to take their lives with a one-year jail term should be repealed; rather, suicide should be seen and addressed as a public health concern.

Also, let us go back to our former ways of life (communal living), where people of different religions, ethnicity, and languages coexisted harmoniously, supported one another, and considered themselves as each other’s keepers. People should no longer live in isolation, rather, they should talk to someone; there should always be a shoulder to lean and cry on.

We cannot afford to look away or remain silent as a nation in the face of this epidemic, which is silently stealing our future leaders and innovators away from us.

We must stand together, united in our resolve to prevent future tragedies and build a brighter, more hopeful future for all Nigerians.

Alabi-Akande is a Media Relations Manager at Bufferzone Communications Ltd

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