Kayode Fasua reports of a recently launched campaign against suicide in Polokwane, South Africa, highlighting efforts aimed at discouraging wrenched people from taking their lives
A three-day campaign against suicide among peoples of Africa was recently launched in South Africa, amid emotive narratives of how precious lives were lost under circumstances that could be salvaged.
Floated under the aegis of Africa Project Against Suicide (APAS), the conference took place in South Africa.
Relating the event in a statement made available to THISDAY, APAS educator, a Kenyan native and educator at Daystar University, Nairobi, Kenya, Mrs. Tabitha Ogango.
She said participants were drawn from Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa.
The campaign against suicide, meant to be a year-long activity, had been slated for 10 African countries, of which Nigeria is among.
Rationalising the philosophy behind the concept, Ogango stated, “Suicide is the act or an instance of taking one’s life voluntarily and intentionally, and the presentations and discussions were extremely informative and thought-provoking.
She stressed that: “The global statistics and those from different countries and sectors shared painted picture of a looming epidemic that needs quick and systematic intervention.
“Suicide rates are highest in Asia and Eastern Europe. In much of the world, suicide is stigmatised and condemned for religious or cultural reasons.
“In some countries, suicidal behaviour is a criminal offence punishable by law. Suicide is, therefore, often a secretive act surrounded by taboo, and may be unrecognised, misclassified or deliberately hidden in official records of death.”
She cited statistics from Africa showing a rising occurrence and hence, the need to begin to actively engage with the war against suicide.
Meanwhile, the conference opened with very moving accounts by several participants who had attempted suicide in the past.
This, thus set the tone for the rest of the conference, as participants analysed the current situation, discussed the root causes of suicide and finally, proffered solutions, in terms of curbing the crime.
From personal accounts on the occasion, it seemed clear that issues that pushed people into committing suicide had their foundations in family matters, school situations and people’s inability to deal with the stress of life presented in various settings, among others.
When all was said and done, Ogango contended that the root cause of suicide was stress – stress that an individual cannot cope with, which then pushes them to see solace in various solutions that eventually destroy them.
Some of the outstanding issues capable of influencing suicide, that came out strongly at the conference, included but are not limited to: strained family relationship; dysfunctional families; the education system that puts so much pressure on learners, rarely affirming them and labelling so many of them as failures; poverty and very tough economic situations that lead to despair, and mental health issues ranging from diagnosis to treatment and management
Others, the participants identified were: Politics and the socio-economic strains in communities; genetics and some people’s predisposition to choosing suicide as a way out of trouble; poor nutrition and health habits that lead to poor brain and physical development; drug use and abuse and wrong diagnosis and sometimes prescription, and poor self-esteem caused by failure in varied areas.
The discussants said from all indications, suicide was preventable.
Ogango added: “We in Africa, the speakers need to retrace our steps in so far as our family set is concerned and the social support the traditional family gave, enabling people to feel a deep sense of belonging and therefore, the level of despair is manageable, even when tough challenges prevail.
“We also need to revisit how we are educating our children and begin to include the recreational and creative subjects so that they have an outlet for the tensions of growing up, and a clear recognition and appreciation for those that are gifted in sports and the creative domains.
“All learners need to be engaged in these areas that build their capacity to withstand strain, and give them an opportunity to freely express themselves, as opposed to bottling up their emotions.”
The discussion on Music Therapy was an eye opener, according to Ogango, who is a professor at the Daystar University, Nairobi. She highlighted music as solution to some pains and calming of those with mental health issues.
“On drugs and suicide, it was clear that we need to be deliberate about managing access and dependence on these. It was noted that it is very easy for people to access certain drugs and this is a major contributor to their misuse and dependence.
“Our mental health diagnosis, treatment and management as a whole is an area that must be addressed.”
She added that it was noted that a very high percentage of suicide cases had their root in some mental health disorder.
“The issue of our nutrition choices was discussed in detail and it was noted that the excessive use of sugar, trans fats, gluten, omega 3, among others, have a very negative effect on the brain and its functions, reducing its capacity to cope with stress.
“It was also interesting to note that the lack of vitamins and minerals in our diets go a long way in affecting how the body and brain work, predisposing them to quick breakdown in times of stress.”
The APAS, according to its organisers, also observed that there was the need for careful education from the religious point, as to queer agitations from would be suicide committers.
The APAS stated that it focused, at the conference, on serving and on making others create a spirit of gratitude and contentment, giving one a great of sense of worth, and making the option of suicide a non-entity.
The conference also resolved to work in every sector to keep Africa alive, with the Motto, “Stay Alive.” Songs, it stated, have been composed that will be used to carry this message across.
“One is an Anthem by Daniel Madalanga, the East Africa Regional Coordinator (of APAS) and the other is a more contemporary style pieced together by Honey Olawale, the International Director of APAS.
“As we move on, it is clear that we need to keep talking about suicide, be alert and reach out to any around us that may be in distress; and we also need to redefine success, so that we deflate the pressure the modern definition of success places on people.
“It is clear that this is the right time to focus on prevention of suicide before the matter gets out of hand,” the APAS prodded.
Meanwhile, following the take-off of the campaign against suicide in South Africa, other African countries slated for the year-long activities, apart from Nigeria, include Kenya, Ghana, Ethiopia, Gambia, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Egypt and Mauritius.
Olawale, the African coordinator of APAS had previously said: “Owing to economic challenges and other social vices within the continent of Africa, the rate of suicide had risen very sharply between year 2016 and 2017; and the statistics of this deadly scourge has even reached an alarming rate now, hence the need to use training conferences and music as tools of discouragement to suicide.”
He had also listed causes of suicide to include loneliness, psychiatric illness such as depression and bipolar disorder, economic recession, domestic conflicts, low self-esteem, unbearable emotion and physical pain, substance abuse, and significant losses in a person’s life.
On the mission of the anti-suicide crusaders, Olawale had disclosed: “This project is meant to spread songs of hope across Africa and turn the heart of the downcast and depressed people from suicide, and also, depict the great destiny that is ahead of this continent.”
He had stressed, however, that the aims and objectives of the concerting groups were to unite the African people, show the beauty of the continent’s rich cultures, let the people know what they will miss here on earth if they take their lives, and sing songs of encouragement and tell the stories of the people who have endured and stayed alive and are successful.
According to him, the two-pronged, expected result of the year-long events, are: reduction in the level of suicide, and unification of the African people.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recently conducted a study and ranked suicides per 100,000 cases with Nigeria having 15 percent per 100,000. By that token, Nigeria has placed fifth in the inglorious column of countries with jaw-dropping cases of suicide.
The list was topped by South Korea with 24,000,000 cases; followed by Russia with 18,000,000; India, 16,000,000 and Japan coming fourth with 15,400,000 suicide instances.