There is need for significant improvement in mental health services

Last weekend attempt by a young man to take his own life over low score in the 2019 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) has once again brought to public limelight the issue of suicides in the country. While the young man, simply identified as Segun, who livestreamed taking poison after leaving a suicide note, is currently battling for life, Nigerians must be encouraged to become more open as they grapple with their frustrations. Many suicide notes are filled with confessions that the victims had no one to talk to. Loneliness and the absence of support are the bedrock of suicide incidents.

With an average of one every 40 seconds according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), suicide is topping the chart as the number one killer. Even if that is a global index painting a general picture, a recent survey shows that many Nigerians have committed suicide in the last few years than in previous times, although some of the deaths are kept away from the public arena. Taboos and the stigma attached to the issue conspire to hush up incidence of suicides. Yet, it should worry us all that far too many of our citizens are taking their own lives.

On 6th April, a lecturer at the Department of Mathematics, University of Ibadan committed suicide. There were reports that he took his life after an unfulfilled dream of completing his PhD programme. Also on 19th April, a 100-level student of Kogi State University, Ayingba took her life after she was jilted by her unnamed boyfriend. She drank a pack of insecticide, Sniper, and was rushed to Federal Medical Centre, but it was too late. On 29th April, another undergraduate, a 100-level student of Chemical Engineering at the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, committed suicide after drinking two packs of Sniper. And on 4th May, a 26-year-old hairdresser in Lagos took her life two weeks after her boyfriend ended their relationship of two years.

There is a huge body of theories as to why our citizens are taking their own lives: psychological, spiritual and societal. While pundits are discussing these various causes, what looks like a common denominator is depression, a prevalent ailment that we seem to pay scant attention to in Nigeria. Besides, Nigeria is among the countries with no national suicide prevention strategy and it is something we must key into by reducing access to the means of suicide. The strategy, according to WHO, includes “responsible reporting of suicides by the media” to avoid the risk of inspiring copycat attempts as well as care for people suffering from mental and substance use disorders, chronic pain and emotional distress.

Many of those who have been interviewed in recent times said they attempted taking their lives after bouts of depression. And these, more than ever before, are depressing times when, as the Holy Writ aptly puts it “men’s hearts are failing them”. The harsh economic condition has led to all sort of mental health challenges among the populace that could result in suicidal instincts. And confronted with this type of trepidation, some people believe they are better off dead.

This is where the role of community and faith-based organisations becomes handy. Where government fails to set up trauma centres, faith-based bodies should be active in providing care and counselling to single parents, out-of-job youths, drug addicts and rape victims, as this set forms the bulk of those with suicidal tendencies. Above all, nothing can replace individual admonition to self. In times like these, citizens must fall back on internal philosophy that places hope above despair and purpose above emptiness. In the final analysis, as we have repeatedly argued on this page, the will to live or die is sometimes a personal decision.