Here, it’s one month, several suicides

As Nigeria ranks 67th out of 173 countries on global suicide rate index

Available statistics has shown that suicide cases have risen to a disturbing dimension. In this report, KEHINDE OYETIMI provides experts’ views on red flags, avoidable indications and avenues to tackling the development.

He betrayed neither sign of worry nor anxiety. He looked formal and proper. Tolulope Abodunrin, until his death, went by the nickname of Don Tee. He had worked in the banking sector for a while and it was difficult, almost impossible, to identify any red-flags. No one knew that Tolulope had once been plagued by suicidal thoughts for about two year. He stated this in his twitter handle and identified depression as a causal factor. Tolulope had hinted that he would write a memoir on surviving the pains of depression.

He had twitted thus “I contemplated ending my life several times. For over two years, I battled suicidal thoughts but today, I am thanking God for life.” Sadly, a few months after the Twitter post, particularly on November 21, 2018, Tolulope reportedly relapsed into depression and ended his life.

What could be more heartrending than to find one’s son with a knife in his belly and his entrails out? This was the pathetic case of Mrs Oyeka, whose 25-year-old Madonna University graduate son, Chidike Oyeka, took his life, leaving a trail of pain and anguish. Reports had it that Chidike had just ended his mandatory youth service corps scheme and returned home to his parents. But his siblings would later tell that Chidike would always keep to himself. He was neither seen with members of his family nor was he seen in company of his friends. He was generally withdrawn. He had repeatedly complained of his inability to get a job.

And then came the night of anguish. One day, when the whole house had retired for the night, Mrs Oyeka got up and decided to move around the house, checking to ensure all appliances had been switched off. She went into the kitchen only to find his son in the pool of his blood. Dead. Chidike had committed suicide.

Dr Solomon Osunlola of the Department of Crop Production, College of Agriculture, Kwara State University, Malete, had wanted to be made a full time lecturer. He fell into depression after his request was repeatedly turned down. He took his life eventually.

In a related development, a lecturer, Mr Patrick Okojie of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Federal Polytechnic, Auchi, Edo State, relapsed into depression after his attempts to secure a full time appointment in the university failed. Like Dr Osunlola, Mr. Okojie committed suicide.

Vivacious Aisha Omolola was a 300-level student of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. She chose to live alone off-campus. Not many knew that she had unsettling personal issues with her parents. Her suicide note revealed the running battle she had with her parents. According to the note, “If I am no more, please hold my family, especially my mum and dad, responsible. I have tried to be the best that I can be. I stayed away from them just because they blamed me for their mistakes and they can’t love, help and take care of me like their own.

“My mum has made life a living hell for me because she is bipolar and frustrated, accusing me of being a witch and a cursed child, even though my brother is responsible for my education and upkeep.” Omolola ingested a canister of insecticide and ended a life she described as miserable.

Michael Arowosaiye was formerly a gospel artiste with the Redeemed Christian Church of God. Reports of his inability to pay his house rent were later debunked but Michael ended his life after strangling himself with his belt. A lady, Bennie Umoren, posted the wedding invite of the late Michael and gave an insight into what could have led to the suicide.

According to her, “Mike didn’t leave a suicide note and he didn’t die because of financial or rent issue. No church abandoned him because of rent. If you know Pastor Telena of Shepherd House, you will know he takes very good care of his members and pastors the way he takes care of himself.

“Mike left RCCG two years ago to Shepherd House Church Apo, Abuja, where he was a worship leader but was suspended two months ago, his wedding cancelled because of sexual relationship with another girl who leaked his nudes. Hence, he got frustrated because of the embarrassment. His house in Sunnyvale Abuja was given to him by the church for free.”


It’s 60 million mental cases in Nigeria

The rising tragic reports of suicide cases have left many saddened. Worried by this trend, the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Health, Abdulaziz Mashi Abdullahi, reaffirmed the Federal Government’s commitment towards reducing cases of mental disorder in Nigeria.

The permanent secretary, who was represented by his Senior Technical Assistant, Mfon Bassey, made this statement during the opening ceremony of Mental Health Action Committee and Stakeholders Workshop held in Abuja.

He further said that in Nigeria, “an estimated 20 per cent to 30 per cent of our populations are believed to suffer from mental disorders. This is a very significant number considering Nigeria with estimated population of over 200 million. Unfortunately, the attention given to mental health disorders in Nigeria is inadequate. A policy for mental health services delivery was developed with several key provisions of the policy, including establishing a body at the Federal Ministry of Health to focus on mental health issues.”

Abdullahi noted that some of the pertinent issues to be considered by the policy were: how to dialogue with stakeholders on the burden of mental health, intimate them on the Mental health policy, identify ways to fast-track the enactment of the mental health bill as well as the resuscitation of the National Mental Health Action Committee for the coordination of stakeholders’ activities on mental health and psychosocial supports in Nigeria.

In a recent evaluation report by the Lagos State Mental Health Survey, at least 7.28 per cent of Lagos residents are often bothered with the thought that they would be better off dead or of hurting themselves in some way. The survey established that suicidal tendency was significantly connected with common mental disorders like depression, anxiety and disability.

Director, World Health Organisation (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Research and Training in Mental Health, Neurosciences and Substance Abuse, Department of Psychiatry, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Professor Oye Gureje told the Nigerian Tribune that depression had become the principal causative factor of suicide in many parts of the country.

“The rate of mental illness, especially of depression, is increasing in the country. Again we can only speculate on whether this is truly the case. But if it is, we may not be very surprised. This is because a number of factors that may precipitate mental illness are certainly on the increase. These include traumatic events, especially those relating to violence such as kidnapping and banditry. Those who experience violence of any sort may develop a variety of mental health conditions that can get worse with time and lead to suicidal behaviour. One example is post-traumatic stress disorder.

“There is also a common feeling that poverty and its associated extreme personal distress, is common and may, in fact, be on the increase. Lack of jobs for young people and insecurity of jobs among those who are employed are rife and may be associated with high psychological distress which may lead to increase in self harm and in suicide.

“These negative social factors are known to be risks for mental illness across the world and any time they increase, rates of suicide tend to go up,” he said.

For Oyesoji Aremu, professor of counseling and criminal justice, University of Ibadan, “Depression is a common and serious medical and psychological illness that could negatively affect how individuals feel, think and how they respond to pressures occasioned in their daily activities. Depression symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can include: feeling sad, hopelessness, mental fatigue; and traumatic life events.

“It is a trying time in Nigeria. Nigeria is ranked 67th among 173 countries on Global Suicide Rate index recently released by the World Health Organisation. This was in 2018. With the rate of suicide cases, Nigeria might move up the ladder on WHO’s Global Index of suicide cases by the end of 2019. There are several reasons why suicide is on the increase. There are job losses more than ever before. The economy is also bad and being mostly a salaried country, people are also facing depressing challenges which affect their social and emotional wellness. The red signals are now many in Nigeria, including truncated life pursuits.”

Dr Abiodun Bello of the Institute of African Studies, University of Lagos, argued that “in most recent times, the rate of suicide seems to have risen dramatically as reported cases of self-inflicted deaths have become commonplace. Perhaps a great difference may be that, in the times, news or reports travelled rather slowly, while today, arrays of media abound both digitally and non-digitally, by which news travels, thus making suicide cases to be more promptly reported. Due to the level of sophistication in human living, more diverse factors now account for man’s vulnerability to suicide. Some of these include social, psychological and personal factors. The age bracket for suicide rate in Nigeria today tends to fall within youth and active years. Teenagers and middle-aged persons have been reported to have committed suicide more than other age groups.”

Professors Gureje and Aremu identified depression, severe anxiety, substance abuse, psychosis, social withdrawal, poor sleep, loss of interest in things, general sense of hopelessness, loss of thought patterns, occasional memory loss, occasional self-talk and constant palpitation of heart as red flags preceding suicide.

Dr Bello pinpointed caution in the handling of social media interactions, among others, when curbing suicide. “People must learn to differentiate between illusion of the media and the reality they live in. Many young people get distracted and carried away by what they get exposed to on TV, and more especially on the social media. Drawing the line between these sources of illusions and their personal realities may be preventive.

“Although most often disregarded, religion and culture teach morals that encourage us to live within our means. Most tortoise tales teach this lesson. People should learn to be comfortable within the limits of their financial and material means. Overreaching oneself is a dangerous thing as far as the examination of suicide is concerned,” he cautioned.

Professor Gureje added that “the most effective way to reduce suicide in the short term is to identify those at risk and treat their conditions. So, early identification and treatment will be the main step to curbing these events. Early identification and treatment will more likely happen if we have better primary care service where the health workers are appropriately trained and supervised to detect and treat common mental disorders. These should include workers in the health facilities in schools and colleges.

“Of course, the longer and wider solution is for the social and economic problems that may predispose to extreme psychological distress to be addressed. This will include reduction in the level of poverty, improvement in level of security, such as curbing banditry, kidnapping, etc. As well as creating the conditions necessary for the young to have a sense of secure future which will entail provision of jobs and improvement of job security.”


Red flags to look out for

  • Depression
  • severe anxiety
  • substance abuse
  • psychosis
  • social withdrawal
  • poor sleep
  • loss of interest in things
  • general sense of hopelessness
  • loss of thought patterns
  • occasional memory loss
  • occasional self-talk
  • constant palpitation of heart
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Looking for a way to end their lives
  • Isolating from family and friends
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Aggression
  • Irritability