By Cosmas Omegoh
Suicide and suicidal tendencies among Nigerians are growing by the day, experts lament. Such tendencies, they claim, are everywhere, spread out for the discerning to see.
Consequently, mental health professionals are urging everyone to look out for certain signs among their relatives and neigbours. Such behaviours, they say, could be pointers to suicide, revealing that situations around many are driving them into depression and ultimately suicide. Only vigilance can help save such people from disaster. And as such everyone must strive and “be your brothers’ keeper.”
Sunday Sun was told the current issues nudging Nigerians to suicide are not far-fetched. They are known and are here: hardship fueled by COVID-19 and other vices. A vast majority of Nigerians are feeling this needless heat which is making their lives sour and worthless. Perhaps if records are kept, the number of persons who have taken their own lives or contemplated doing so will shock everyone.
Notwithstanding, Dr Smart Chongo and Dr Raji Saheed, both mental health experts are optimistic that Nigerians can help one another stay alive. They urged people to go the extra mile to help their neighbours and loved ones keep thoughts of suicide away.
According to Dr Chongo, what to do is simple. Just watch out for those clear, simple signs signaling that the person before you is contemplating suicide.
Suicide on the rise
“To tell you the truth, suicide is on the rise at the moment,” Dr Chongo told Sunday Sun.
Chongo who is the founder and executive director of Smart Suicide Prevention Initiative, an NGO, insisted that he has proof to buttress his claim.
“We have a hotline – it is a suicide and depression helpline – with which we receive cases of suicide daily. Between 2017 and now, that line received between 60-100 calls daily from people seeking help – people calling to tell us they are tired of life. They want to end it all.
“That tells you how much people are depressed – how much people are sliding into committing suicide.
“Even when our help line is there, some don’t have access to it. Some who have access to it don’t have the courage to call. They conclude it is over and simply end it.”
He recalled that lately, they were informed that a student of Benue State University committed suicide.
“His case didn’t get to us; we just heard that he took his life.
“Every week we receive reports here and there about people taking their own lives. It is such an emotional stress to us too.”
Dr Saheed also admitted that suicide is on the rise, but added that he hadn’t figures to back his claim.
Dr Saheed, a team member, Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi Araba, Suicide Research and Prevention Initiative (SURPIN) said: “I would say that intents of suicide in the country have been on the increase.
“We regularly have people calling to tell us how they feel and their desire to commit suicide. But I might not be able to say whether completed suicide has been on the increase or not. There is a difference between the two.”
What then is suicide
Often, people tend to believe that victims of suicide are only those who hang themselves on tree branches or their ceiling fans.
Dr Chongo explained that many who die quietly in their sleep or at home might as well be victims of suicide.
“Suicide,” he explained, “is simply an act of voluntarily taking one’s own life. And that can be by any means: by hanging on the rope, taking overdose of drugs, jumping into the river or lagoon, or from a height and falling to death, etc.”
Days ago for instance, a staff of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, identified as Fisayo Oyeniyi, hung himself in his apartment in Ile-Ife. It was gathered that he wrote a suicide note to his family – his aged mother, wife and children, allegedly saying: “I am not interested in living again.”
In Ibadan weeks before, a young man said to have earned a Master’s degree three years ago, committed suicide by drinking a lethal substance.
Early this year, a girl in Lagos was said to have drank a substance which ended her life, leaving no reason for her action.
Oftentimes in Lagos, people plunge straight into the Lagos lagoon in the full glare of everyone, abandoning their cars on the bridge. They simply couldn’t continue with life.
Triggers of suicide
A popular aphorism has it that thoughts of death are never conceived in just a day. There are inducers and there are triggers.
“There are so many underling triggers,” Dr Chongo said, adding “but they depend on the individual because what one goes into and comes out smiling, the other might go in and not come out at all.”
He went on to say “a suicide trigger could be loss of a loved one; it could be stress; it could be abuse; it could be unmet expectations; there are some many reasons.
“But you cannot exclude mental health in general. When people are mentally distressed, a lot of things happen. This might lead to so many things. But not everyone who is mentally stressed might go into suicide any way; however, that is where it all starts.”
He also pointed out other reasons saying: “When it comes to mental stress, a number of reasons might come in. It could be social stress; it could be psychological; it could be chemical imbalance in the brain; it could be hereditary; it could be stress at work, career stress or whatever.”
Then he came with the ill wind that is brutally blowing around every one.
“In Nigeria at the moment, the major trigger is socio-economic factor.
“People are going through enormous stress. They cannot meet their needs.
“You get a lot of calls and they are coming from people who cannot meet their needs. They cannot pay their bills; they are calling for help.
“Imagine a grown up man who wakes up in the morning and there is no food; the wife is there, the children are – crying, no food. Of course, that is stressful. That might lead one into depression, and once one slides into depression, anything can happen,” he said.
Dr Raji agrees that much. He told our correspondent, that when people call his office for help, they often mention several factors responsible for their felling.
“They range from depression to poverty, financial difficulty to family issues and all that. But above all the main trigger is financial difficulty.”
He emphasised that “I think it all has to do with the economy, and we are particular about how difficult things have come to be in the past months, fueled by the COVID-19.”
He sadly recalled that “many businesses have crumbled. There were people doing relatively okay before now and people struggling before COVID-19. Then the virus struck, and their businesses were grounded. Now, they cannot feed themselves and their families. I think the hard economic time is a strong influence on a lot of people.”
What situation means to people
Dr Chongo feared that the times have telling implication for Nigerians.
According to him, “it means that we have so much to do. It shows that we are now a disenchanted people.
“Long before now, it was said that we were the happiest people on earth. Perhaps that is no longer. It means that we have a lot to do because people are getting more and more depressed since ends are no long being met. Expectations are no longer being met. People are suffering and we have so much to do.”
What to do to save lives
The two experts agreed that Nigerians need help and enjoined everyone to strive and be their brothers’ keeper.
They went on to recommend skills everyone has to learn in order to help retrieve others from the vice grip of depression.
According to Dr Chongo, there are now various signs to look out for in every individual right before you.
He said: “If the person you know withdraws from social life, if he begins to keep to himself, it means that he is no longer who he used to be. So many things may have begun to change.”
Then he said: “And when his language begins to change, when he begins to talk about leaving this world; that the world would have been better without him, if he is wishing that he never wakes up – when you begin to hear that kind of comment, know that something is wrong with that person.
“But you don’t have to put suicidal thoughts in their minds by asking them if they are thinking suicide; however, it is good to ask: ‘what are you thinking about; what is in your head now?’ It is often difficult for them to open up but it is helpful when you show care – when you show empathy and always try to be around and assure them that you are willing to go all the way with them; you are willing to support them in whatever way you can. That will go a long way in helping them. You don’t let them stay alone because the craziest thoughts come in when they are alone. If you have to take a walk with them, do that because exercise helps them a lot.”
Dr Chongo was insistent that there are signs of suicide everywhere you go. You could see them in your next door neigbhour and even relatives, he said.
“Before I started this programme,” he recalled, “I lost a friend to suicide. Before that, I was seeing the mood swings in him, but I didn’t know what was happening because information about mental health and suicide were not handy. Nobody was talking about it. Then after his death, I tried to find out why people take their own life because I only saw that in the movies.
“Then I discovered from the information I gathered that everyone around me was giving me signs of suicide. I was seeing all that in my neighbours, my siblings – everyone. They were glaring. Then I said whao! These things are there, but we don’t know. That was how I started creating awareness about them.
“Right now people are going through a lot and that is pushing them into depression.
Hardship is there. And we cannot deny that.”
He is unhappy that everyone is part of this growing mental challenge dangling over everyone like the proverbial Sword of Damocles.
“We have lost empathy. We do not care much anymore; it is now everyone unto himself.
“Even the social media has become a factor in this. It has its positive sides, but its negative side is plaguing us. It makes people feel they have not achieved anything. It makes people feel that they are not where they should be.
“Although the social media brought us closer, yet we are far from one another. Instead of coming to your house and seeing how you are doing, I just assume that everything is okay because I see a nice picture of you online. And that is it, not knowing that you are getting depressed,” he said.
He pointed out some of the things that he said are also currently depressing Nigerians.
“Many things are happening now: people are raping infants and older ones; there are killings here and there. There are armed bandits and terrorists here and there and people have lost their loved ones through these people. Some people, their relatives were kidnapped and they had to sell all they had to get them back and all that. And now, there is nothing to fall back on. These things have done a lot of harm to our mental health.”
How to help depressed people
To help the next person out of suicide, Dr Chongo advised that “individually, we have to be checking on our loved ones; don’t just assume everyone is okay. Go home, visit them. Give them a call; the little you have share with them.”
To the government he said: “It has a lot to do; sponsor NGOs, initiate policies that would save the people. Talk more about mental health that will save lives. Try to help people who are poor because unemployment is there. There are a lot that people are going through that the government needs to help.
“As an organisation, create an enabling environment for the depressed to go for counseling or rehab centres might help a lot. Don’t just fire people because they are not being productive in the office; there might be a lot of underlying factors making them ineffective and unproductive in the office. Create avenues for people to recreate and bring in mental health professionals to counsel people on how to keep fit physically, mentally and emotionally. That will help a lot.”
Also Dr Saheed enjoined everyone feeling depressed to speak out.
“If you are feeling down, speak to someone. A problem shared is a problem half solved.
“People should try to eat balanced food as much as they can – fruits, vegetable etc; they help a lot.
“Depression is a medical condition. If you are feeling down talk to you doctor; ask for help.”
“We should be there for one another. We should try and reach out to people. If we have children, who used to be outspoken and all of a sudden they are withdrawn, try to reach out to them. Talk to your children, your wife or husband often; be there for one another.
“When people tell how they are feeling, try and make them understand that the situation is not as bad; they will get better.”
Societal role to depressed
“In school, teachers should reach out to kids and see what they do. Teachers should make themselves more available to their students so that once they notice a change in them, they can bring it up. Some teachers are even the ones who draw the attention of parents to their children’s problem. The issues identified might be a pointer to a brewing physiological challenge. If a bright child suddenly grows dull and no longer as bright as they used to be, that’s a sign to a challenge.”
“Both Christianity and Islam abhor suicide. So, our churches and mosques should be preaching what they are supposed to preach rather than prosperity and putting all of us under pressure. It should not be the case. Sermons should always centre around holiness and godliness.”
He assured that LUTH’s SURPIN will always be there to “reach out to the people by letting them know that suicide is not the solution. We are a body of various specialists: psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists. Our lines are out there. And we urge people to reach out to us first before they attempt doing anything,” he said, while insisting on the sacredness and sanctity of life which no one has a right to terminate.