The increasing occurrence of suicide among workers and youths in the country is a revelation of despair and agony that had probably gone on in the minds of victims for days or months before the incident. No one anticipates that the precious gift of life should be taken away in such a manner. While many of these incidents have been traced to socio-economic conditions, unemployment and depression, BERNARD VICTORY examines preventive measures to put a stop to the menace.

In November 2018, a 49-year-old civil servant, Abolarinwa Olaoye, hanged himself within the Ekiti State Secretariat in Ado Ekiti. The father of five, who worked as a night guard at the Ekiti State Scholarship Board, was found dead dangling with a clothing material tied to the railing of a building at the State Ministry of Education. According to his co-workers, Olaoye faced financial challenges. And he told his sister-in-law, Mrs. Elizabeth Babalola, that he was tired of life. She must have viewed this as a normal statement anyone can make, as she only encouraged him without going further to compel him to seek medical help until the tragic incident a day after.

Also that month, a bank worker, Tolulope Abodunrin, aka Don Tee, who admitted on the social media to have been plagued by thoughts of suicide for two years due to depression, took his life. He succeeded after series of failed attempts. Abodurin, who was a 2006 graduate of Accounting from the University of Ilorin, Kwara State, projected to write a book to express his years of surviving the pains of depression. He wrote on Twitter, “I contemplated ending my life several times. For over two years, I battled thoughts but today, I am thanking God for my life.” He took his life two months after.

Psychiatrist, Dr Moyosore
Psychiatrist, Dr Moyosore

In April 2013, a 25-year-old graduate of Madonna University, Chidike Oyeka, who just returned to his parents’ home in the Aguda area of Lagos State after his one-year National Youth Service Corps programme, committed suicide. Oyeka, who regularly complained about his joblessness, was said to be showing signs of depression as his mother realised that he was not his usual self. He had become withdrawn, and was always seen staring at nothing in particular, seeming to be in a world of his own. It was also found that whenever his siblings offered to take him out, he would refuse all entreaties, insisting that he wanted to be alone as he was unhappy. He was taken to the hospital to see a general practitioner and not a psychiatrist. However, it was learnt that one night, Oyeka’s mother woke up to ensure doors were locked and no electrical appliances left on as she usually did. To her utter shock, she saw her son lying in a pool of his blood in the kitchen after stabbing himself.

In another incident, a part-time lecturer at the Department of Crop Production, College of Agriculture, Kwara State University, Malete, Dr. Solomon Osunlola, committed suicide after his request to be made a full-time lecturer was declined. Osunola reportedly fell into depression after which he took his life.

Sniper: New Suicide Weapon

In the past, hanging, stabbing and jumping into the lagoon (in coastal areas like Lagos) were the favourite methods for committing suicide. Recently, new methods of suicide surfaced as the media became awash with cases of individuals ending their lives through the usage of a product called “Sniper”. Sniper is a DDVP (2,2-Diclorovinyl dimethyl phosphate) compound marketed in Nigeria by Swiss-Nigerian Chemical Company, for the purpose of killing pests. Unfortunately, it has turned to a suicide weapon.

A Lagos-based disc jockey, Seun Omogaji, popularly known as DJ XGee, did not clearly state his reasons for committing suicide in his suicide note which he posted on online social networking site, Instagram. He simply bade his siblings and mother farewell and asked friends to wear white to his funeral instead of black. However, friends close to him claimed he had lamented the marital crisis he was facing and felt the best way to overcome the emotional trauma was to take his life by gulping Sniper.

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Similarly, a 17-year-old, Temitope Saka, died after ingesting Sniper in the Igando area of Lagos State. The victim’s grandmother reportedly sent her packing after she became pregnant. She then took the poisonous substance in her boyfriend’s apartment. She was rushed to the Igando General Hospital where she died.

Also, Chukwuemeka Akachi, a 400-level student of the Department of English and Literary Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, (UNN) committed suicide in the solitude of an uncompleted building located at Sullivan Road, Nsukka where he allegedly slipped into coma after taking two bottles of Sniper. His unconscious body was however discovered by passersby. He was declared dead at UNN Federal Medical Centre. A close friend said Akachi posted a suicide note on his Facebook wall shortly before he committed suicide.

Statistics on Suicide

According to the Global Health Observatory, suicide is the second leading cause of death among those aged 15-29 years.  The rate in Nigeria is put at 9.5/100,000. It has been strongly linked to depression, and also drug abuse, directly or in association with depression. Suicide does not just occur in high-income countries, but is a global phenomenon in all regions of the world. In fact, over 79 per cent of global suicides occurred in low- and middle-income countries in 2016.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year and for every suicide there are many more people who attempt suicide every year.

It is estimated that around 20 per cent of global suicides are due to pesticide self-poisoning, most of which occur in rural agricultural areas in low- and middle-income countries. Other common methods of suicide are hanging and firearms.

WHO says that while the link between suicide and mental disorders (in particular, depression and alcohol use disorders) is well established in high-income countries, many suicides happen impulsively in moments of crisis with a breakdown in the ability to deal with life stresses, such as financial problems, relationship break-up or chronic pain and illness. The organisation stated that stigma, particularly surrounding mental disorders and suicide, means many people thinking of taking their own life or who have attempted suicide, are not seeking help and are therefore not getting the help they need.

The organsation also says the prevention of suicide has not been adequately addressed due to a lack of awareness of suicide as a major public health problem and the taboo in many societies to openly discuss it. Only a few countries have included suicide prevention among their health priorities and only 38 countries report having a national suicide prevention strategy.

NAFDAC’s move

In apparent response to the increasing rate of suicide through Sniper ingestion, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) banned the sale of Sniper in open markets.

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The Director, Veterinary Medicine and Allied Products Directorate, NAFDAC, Dr. Bukar Usman, said that Sniper is an agro-product whose use was meant for farms and not households, stressing that there were other appropriate products for the control of mosquitoes and other household pests.

He said, “Recently, some suicide cases have been associated with people drinking Sniper. Henceforth, we call on the agro-chemical industry to enhance their distribution channels so that this product (Sniper) gets to only accredited distributors and marketers. We have also placed a ban on the manufacture of smaller packs of Sniper which are easily purchased for household use.”

The Director General of the agency, Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, said that the ban on sale of Sniper and other brands of agricultural formulations of Dichlorvos in open markets would take effect from September 1, 2019.

Psychiatrists Speak

However, some psychiatrists in Nigeria do not think that the ultimate solution to tackling suicide in Nigeria will be achieved by simply stopping the sale of Sniper and related products from the open market.

In an interview with Safety Record, the Senior-Registrar Psychiatrist, Federal Neuro Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Dr. Matanmi Moyosore, said that suicide is caused by mental illness and depression resulting from the pressure of life’s challenges. According to him, suicide is more common in males than females.

Explaining depression as a leading cause of suicide, he said, “Depression is a psychiatric disorder on its own. Most of them (victims) are always crying. They experience low energy. They feel very weak. It is hard for them to get up from the bed and go to work. They are weak just for no reason. Then they lose interest in things that they do before. Other symptoms can be poor appetite, loss of weight, inability to sleep, restlessness, hopelessness, worthlessness, low self-esteem. All these things are signs of depression.

“Suicide is commoner in males than females. Depression is commoner in females than males. To take one’s life takes a lot of courage. Men have that courage to go ahead and complete it. Women most times get involved with para-suicide. You don’t want to take your life but to get attention. So they could take drug-overdose or tear themselves with knives. They do to get attention that they are in pain.”

Explaining the challenges surrounding suicide in the country, Dr. Moyosore, said, “Things are not going well in the country; people don’t have jobs. Even when you have a job, to get your settlement, people are sitting on it. Go to school these days, you see the way that lecturers sit on certificates, results of students for years for one thing or the other.

“Also these days, our youths are taking things for granted or taking things too far. They are not as strong in their minds as in the past. They fail exam. The next thing is to kill themselves. There are many reasons for suicide and these reasons should not go away. If you take away one method, people will come up with something else to use.”

On the banning of ‘Sniper’ product, he said, “So those methods in which people use to kill themselves were once available. There are more. Sniper became popular because of the social media and people knew about it everywhere. Before, it was jumping into the lagoon. The government tried to stop it by putting security agencies on the bridge. Sniper too came and is going because of the laws. Other methods will come and the issue we are dealing with will not stop by removing these methods but by going down to the real cause.”

“Now if going by what government is doing, people will not come out any more to say what they are doing.”

He appealed to loved ones of sufferers of depression to compel them to seek psychiatric help.

Furthermore, Dr. Moyosore called on the government improve socio-economic conditions in the country and increase awareness so as to reduce stigmatisation associated with seeking psychiatric help.

He said, “What we want people to do is that if anyone wants to kill themselves, they should report to a psychiatrist so we can help them. Why people don’t come out to talk is because of fear of persecution. So people rather stay indoors and kill themselves. What government should do is that they should create more sensitisation on the numbers to call. They should also make things easy for people in the country by improving standard of living.

“Let there be more enlightenment for mental health issues. Stopping Sniper will not stop it totally. After a break, they will come up with another method to use. Increasing awareness for mental health is a good solution to this problem. The media, the government and psychiatrists too are not left out.”

Moyosore, who hails from Ekiti State, further lamented the low number of psychiatrists in the country.

He said, “There should be adequate psychiatrist hospitals. This hospital is the only one in Lagos, although LUTH (Lagos University Teaching Hospital) has about four to five desks for psychiatry. LASUTH (Lagos State University Teaching Hospital) does not have.  In fact, I think the one at Yaba is the only major one we have in the whole of South West. There is Aro, Abeokuta too but it is not as big as this place.

He added that more psychiatric hospitals need to be provided at the grassroots for those at that level.

“Now this hospital is in the town. People that are in the villages that need help don’t really have access. So psychiatric hospitals should be made available in Primary Health Centres (PHCs). If it can’t be handled there, it should be referred to the tertiary.”

Also speaking to Safety Record, a Consultant Psychiatrist at the popular mental health institution, Dr. Adefemi Adeoye, corroborated Moyosore’s position that socio-economic challenges, hopelessness, poor access to medical care and unemployment in the society are among the leading causes of suicide in the country.

According to him, “The increased rate of suicide in Nigeria can be attributed to many things. Multifaceted reasons including the socio-economic reasons, unemployment in the society, hopelessness which now makes people who are already pre-disposed to having mental health problems to break down. When they break down, they don’t have access to care…so some of them get the options of suicide.

“Apart from that, there is increased substance use. The youth right from their early age are being exposed to substance abuse of various forms; some prescription medication, some non-prescribed drugs and which has also been encouraged by our entertainment industry which tends to showcase that it is cool to use drugs.

“Also, increased peer pressure and people wanting to become important personalities in the society without wanting to go through the necessary pains or failures and then succeeding at what you do can also lead to this.”

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Dr. Adeoye stressed the need for professionalism in reporting suicide cases as it is paramount to reducing the rate of suicide in the country.

He said, “The media should leave out some certain details when they are reporting about suicide cases because they are bringing out clues to enable people to commit suicide and then it such shouldn’t be made headline news. The name of the suicide method is usually spread by the press. That sends a signal that I can get this particular thing and use it to kill myself.

“So regulation from our health ministries (is important) and the press also should recognise the important role of keeping some information away when they are reporting suicide. All these will help in ensuring that even if someone has a feeling to commit suicide, he doesn’t have the know-how to carry it out.”

He said tackling suicide required concerted effort from individuals, families, religious bodies, the media and regulatory agencies.

The psychiatrist also warned against stigmatisation.

“At the level of the individual, they should not be ashamed to ask for help when necessary and ask for help from family, religious body and when necessary seek professional help. Once you know that it is professional need that you require, don’t be ashamed to seek such help.

“The community at large, I think it is important for us not to stigmatise people who have mental health problems who are bold enough to admit that they have mental health issues.

“Mental health issues or problems are not usually self-inflicted, there are few occasions where something you ought to do, you failed to do it. It can lead to mental health issues. But it is a disease.

“The same way you are not going to blame somebody for having malaria, you should not blame people who have mental health challenges, so reducing stigmatisation in the community will make people to come out more to seek help appropriately.

“For our media men – both the conventional media and the social media which is free for all – I think there is a need for professionalism in reporting suicide. They should not glamourise suicide and we should leave out specific information that can encourage someone else from carrying out same thing.

“Our religious bodies should also know their limitations and refer patients to appropriate place instead of putting them through some terrible experiences like tying them down, labelling them as being possessed.

He said that a combination of these factors, if unable to eliminate suicide, will reduce it to the barest minimum.

Adeoye, who also Heads the State Disorder Unit of the Hospital, called on the government to create enabling environment for people to be enable to seek appropriate health care when they need such care.

Further Government Action

The Senate on July 9 called on the Federal government to establish trauma centres to curb the scourge just as the former governor of Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, urged the Federal Government to establish the Ministry of Happiness, to take care of Nigerians who are sliding into depression and committing suicide.

The Senate called on the Federal Government to review the school curriculum and come up with a compulsory course that would enable students place value on lives and desist from suicide as well as expanding the scope and content of the Special Intervention Programme, and create economic opportunities for the unemployed.

With such, the fight against suicide will be adequately re-enforced and hence incidence of suicide will be reduced to the barest minimum in the country.

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