By Job Osazuwa
On May 17, a 17-year-old student in Ghana, Leticia Penaman Kyere, reportedly took her own life. According to reports, Leticia took her life at Miracle Senior High Schoo, Ghana.
The house mistress revealed that Leticia left a note saying: “There is so much pain and sorrow in my heart.”
It is unclear what could make such a beautiful young lady decide to end it all. The unfortunate incident took place at the school’s dining hall, where some students found her body hanging with a noose around her neck at about 9.45pm.
In September 2020, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) urged communities to be on the lookout for the warning signs of suicide and know where to get help.
SADAG’s operations director, Cassey Chambers, said, in South Africa, there were up to 23 suicides recorded daily, and for every suicide there were a further 20 attempted suicides.
In April, a 200 level student of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, in the Department of Management and Accounting, Emmanuel Adedeji, reportedly took his life.
Adedeji, it was said, left a suicide note after he took a poisonous substance which led to his death. It was not clear why he took the decision, as there were different accounts explaining why he drank poison.
The public relations officer of the university, Abiodun Olanrewaju, confirmed the death of the student.
Similarly, in February, a young man from Aragba Street, Omuo Oke Ekiti, Ekiti State, reportedly took his life by hanging.
It was gathered that his parents and residents of the community woke up on that fateful Wednesday to find his lifeless body dangling from the roof.
A member of the community, who preferred to be anonymous, told newsmen that the young man of about 28 years was a student of one of the universities in the state, but suddenly dropped out for no reason.
Also this year, Dele Bandele, a Nigerian, who was earlier declared missing by friends, was found dead. Friends of Bandele had earlier taken to the social media to ask about his whereabouts, using a flyer that contained phone numbers for contact as well as his picture.
The deceased was said to been last seen at Omole Phase 2, Lagos, while his last known location was said to be at the Third Mainland Bridge.
In a suicide note, Bandele said he had battled with depression for seven years.
“I have battled with depression for seven years, and now that battle is over. l couldn’t continue to live the way l did and make the same bad choices again. The noise got too loud but now the noise can stop again.
“I didn’t send my mum a note because I couldn’t bear to. If you’re reading this, then you probably know how much she meant to me. The thought of her would have discouraged me. I couldn’t let it. Not for the 4th time. Take care of her for me. Take care of Folarin for me. To my father, I pray the Father forgives him,” he had written.
In different parts of Nigeria, adults and the younger ones alike have abruptly ended their lives for different reasons. There is no gainsaying that the COVID-19 pandemic has further compounded many people’s woes, especially shrinking or completely cutting off their means of livelihood.
According to the World Health Organisation’s latest report on Global Suicide Estimate, one person dies by suicide every 40 seconds.
The incidence of suicide and how the situation is generally managed by the society remains worrisome to experts and other stakeholders in the country.
At a virtual book launch recently, experts, policymakers and other concerned Nigerians lent their voices to the debate, the setbacks and solutions to the menace.
The book, “The Morning After: A Guide for Media Reporting and Prevention of Suicide in Nigeria,” was written by Olufemi Oluwatayo, a psychiatrist, and Martins Ifijeh, a journalist.
Reviewing the book, a psychiatrist, former chief medical director of Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Mr. Femi Olugbile, described the statistics of almost one million people across the globe successfully taking their own life every year as a disturbing trend.
He said it was unfortunate that many media houses used sensational headlines while reporting suicides and argued that such reporting makes suicide a subject of discussion among the populace as well as making it attractive for others who are fed up with their life.
“The fact that a few people have killed themselves does not suggest in any way that half of the population of Lagos or Ibadan are thinking of ending their lives. But that is the impression you get in sensational reportage. The press are the people between the actualities in the society and the general public.
“We need to be empathic when reporting suicide cases. Sometimes, we don’t really need to report all suicide or attempted suicide. Journalists must always deliberately be part of solutions to the problems in society and not fuelling it.
“The advent of social media has also done more harm when it comes to reporting suicide. People often don’t know the facts; they could get the context wrong, but they just go ahead and make a post. They are not regulated or bound by any journalistic practice,” he said.
He also maintained that it was high time unguarded reports on the bereaved family were halted. He stated that when a detailed description, including the person’s address, is given, the family members become the objects of stigmatisation.
While saying that there was the need to realise that certain trauma comes with suicide, particularly for the immediate family members left behind, he called for more responsible reporting, saying suicide is a very sensitive issue that must be treated with caution.
“There is also victimisation. The family members might be tagged along the line. Sometimes, it makes life become almost unbearable for these family members. It is a tragedy.
“Most importantly, there is always a medical reason for suicide or attempted suicide. Most of the people who take their lives have a diagnosable psychiatric ailment. It is not a criminal condition but simply an ailment.
“The current condition we have found ourselves in in Nigeria is that suicide is criminal, looking at the way it is reported. I am excited that the authors dwell on this and want a change in this direction. They even talk about the word ‘suicide’ as sounding like ‘homicide’ or other similar words, which suggests that some kind of crime has been committed. We need to dissociate ourselves from this suggestion.
“The law in Nigeria on suicide recognises suicide not as an ailment as a reason for the person to see a doctor, but as a criminal offence. It sees it as somebody who has committed a criminal injury to himself or herself. By the same law, the persons who attempts suicide should be arrested and immediately charged to the magistrate’s court for prosecution. This does not help matters.
“It is a very antiquated form of thinking inherited from the British law, but Britain has since moved on and reversed its Mental Health Law and the way it sees it generally. We need to do the same here for the betterment of the Nigerian society. Again, this is why this book is very important because the authors want government to look into all these.”
Also commenting, chairman of the editorial board of Thisday Newspaper, Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi, said Nigerians needed reorientation regarding mental health issues. He stated that it was unfortunate that people still attached a certain level of stigma to mental imbalance.
“In Nigeria, you can’t freely tell people around you that you want to go and see a psychiatrist. They will certainly look at you with strange eyes. And because of this, we have left what needed to be done undone and pushed many people over the edge. We should understand that it is not every wound that is visible. Most of the battles we fight are things that people cannot easily see or relate with.
“Something is responsible for a man who drove himself to the Third Mainland Bridge and jumped into the ocean. In the world we are, some people might attribute it to witchcraft, but it is just a medical condition.
“So, a book like this from a medical doctor and a journalist is well commended, and I am recommending it for all Nigerians who love their health, especially for the narrative to change,” he said.
Contributing, Senator Lanre Tejuoso, who was chairman of the Health Committee in the Senate between 2015 and 2019, said the role of government was key in suicide prevention. He agreed with others that the book was very relevant in amending the Mental Health Bill already before the National Assembly.
“Just like this book, we also need another book that spells out guidelines on reporting kidnapping so that we don’t make the crime attractive to the people. The media should rise up to the occasion and ensure that suicide does not become another epidermic as we already have many issues at hand to deal with,” he said.
Anchoring the virtual book launch, the founder of Nous Organisation, a non-governmental organisation, that has been in the forefront in creating awareness on suicide prevention and other mental health challenges, Lade Olugbemi, said that all stakeholders must lend their voices to the ugly development so that more lives could be saved. She believed that prevention remains the best way to tackle mental illness.
She frowned on some age-long practices in handling suicide, as well as relating with the family of the deceased in many communities, describing them as disgraceful and condemnable.
The United Kingdom-based advocate said that continuous sensitisation was all-important in overcoming most of the challenges associated with suicide and other manifestations of mental ailments.
“We need to break the barriers and remove the challenges we have around mental health. For a long time, we feel that mental health is a taboo topic that we should not talk about at all.
“Stigma is very high on anything relating to mental illness. So, lots of people just keep quiet while the ailment gets worse by the day. We have a duty to raise awareness, educate people and also let people know that there are many things we can do to prevent people from becoming mentally unwell,” she said.
On why they wrote the book, the authors said that they needed journalists to reflect on the aftermath impact of what they write on suicide cases, not just on the family but on the society. They also harped on the fact that mental illness was just like every other ailment that anyone could come down with, which requires medical care.
Ifijeh stated that he was curious that many media houses were not adhering to the WHO guidelines in reporting suicide. He explained that the guidelines were to ensure that journalists don’t fuel suicide, but he expressed dismay that the reverse was the case in Africa, especially Nigeria.
“While reporting suicide, we need to look at the health angle. While continuously doing this, it will register in people’s memory that suicide is not a crime but a medical situation,” he said.
On his part, the co-author, Oluwatayo said that he depended on Ifijeh on the investigative aspect of suicide while he concentrated on the medical causes based on his experience as a doctor in Nigeria and abroad.
He said: “The press need to put their house properly in order and self-regulate their activities. We don’t want the government to regulate the press because of the importance of press freedom.”