Dr Olufemi Oluwatayo
The World Mental Health Day is marked annually on October 10 to raise awareness about mental health issues with a specific theme each year. The theme for this year is Suicide Prevention.
Suicide is a global public health challenge. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that suicide accounts for over 800,000 deaths each year worldwide, which equates to one suicide every 40 seconds! It is the second commonest cause of death among young people aged 15-29 years, second only to road accidents.
Its rate is increasing worldwide and most of the suicides takes place in low and middle-income countries like Nigeria. Indeed, in recent years, local media reports in Nigeria suggest that the rate of suicide is increasing at an alarming rate especially among the youths.
It is obvious that an incident of suicide has massive impact on the immediate family and the larger society. It has been estimated that for each suicide, approximately 135 people suffer intense grief or are profoundly affected in other ways. The resulting stigma may last generations in some families.
So, is suicide preventable? A common argument is that you cannot really stop anyone who is determined to kill him or herself. However, research indicates that for every individual who dies by suicide, there are about 20 other individuals attempting to end their life with many of them actually having no intention of dying but attempting suicide for other reasons. So there are many reasons why people attempt suicide.
At individual level, a person going through a difficult time who no longer feel able to cope may attempt suicide. The difficult time may be related to a job loss or financial difficulties or breakdown of a loving relationship or diagnosis of a serious physical illness, whilst the feeling of inability to cope may be related to the person’s personality make up or the presence of a mental disorder such as depression. The person may attempt suicide as a means of communicating his or her frustration with the situation to loved ones or the society at large or just to get a temporary reprieve from the situation or just a way of coping. Some people with a condition called personality disorder habitually self-harms as a way of coping with life stresses and often ends up killing themselves accidentally.
At society level, the risk factors include, poverty and lacks of means to actualise personal ambitions, lack of family or societal support, lack of access to appropriate crisis and mental health services, easy access to means of suicidal act such as pesticides, glamouralisation of suicide by the media and stigma as a result of the generally negative societal attitude towards mental disorders, the law considering suicide a crime and religious condemnation of the act.
Thus, a completed suicide may be an unintended outcome and is often as a result of many factors with opportunities for intervention at various levels.
Societal issues can be addressed by the government living up to its responsibilities, providing enabling environment for its citizens to thrive and alleviating poverty.
People who are in distress and those suffering from a mental disorder needs support, counselling or treatment by appropriate professionals. It is not only governments who can provide this but private mental health providers, charities and NGOs, educational institutions, religious bodies, social organisations, community groups and leaders of opinions all have a role to play.
As a society, we need to reach out to people who are going through a difficult time. Many people who are feeling unhappy can feel like their problems are a burden for others and that those around them do not care, so they may not ask for help or share their burden. As such, reaching out to them may help boost their mood and give them hope.
The millions of people affected each year by suicidal behaviour have unique insight and distinctive voices. Their experiences are invaluable in informing suicide prevention measures and influencing the provision of supports for suicidal people and those around them. So also the involvement of people with lived experience of suicide attempt.
The WHO requires the government of each country to take the lead and take responsibility for suicide prevention by outlining and implementing a National Suicide Prevention Policy aimed at establishing strategies to prevent suicide and promote the public’s mental health. The Member States of the WHO have pledged their support to the Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020 to strive towards the global aim to reduce the suicide rate in countries by 10% by 2020. This suicide rate reduction also encompasses an indicator to the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, to which all UN countries have committed to working towards.
No single organisation, intervention, discipline or person can solve the complex issue of suicide. The key is working together and collaboration and recognising that no effort is too small. Everyone can make a contribution to prevent suicide.
Oluwatayo is the Chief Executive Officer, Retreat Healthcare, and President, The Good Mood Charity Foundation