Addressing rising cases of suicide among youths

Addressing rising cases of suicide among youths

By Babatunde Olorunleke
The death by suicide of one Adekunle Olanrewaju, 20years, has brought to the fore the growing rate of suicide in Nigeria.

Nowadays, almost on daily basis, reports of suicides are make headlines; the victims cut across all gender, and age groups, men, women, teenagers it is like epidemic, a social malady ravaging a people and nothing is being said about it.

Recent happenings across the country show that there is an alarming upsurge in incidence of suicide, usually Nigerians are considered lovers of life and as such would never contemplate suicide for whatever reason. But, recent occurrence in the country has since changed that.

Simply put, suicide is the intentional taking of one’s life. Before now, there have been several reports of adults jumping into the Lagos lagoon and others hanging themselves. But the trend has dramatically changed in the last few years. More teenagers are taking their own lives especially through poisoning themselves. Why?

According to World Health Organization (WHO), while the link between suicide and mental disorder (in particular, depression and alcohol disorder) 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.

In addition, experiencing conflict, disaster, violence, abuse or loss and a sense of isolation are strongly associated with suicidal behaviour.

Suicide rates are also high amongst vulnerable groups who experience discrimination, such as refugees and migrants, and prisoners. By far the strongest risk factor for suicide is a previous suicide attempt.

It is estimated that around 20 percent of global suicide 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, recently, detergent.

A consultant and psychiatrist, Dr. Moses Ibihunwa told The Hope that there are peculiarities of those within the age 13-35. The first thing to consider, Ibihunwa said, is the period they lived in, which he described as the millennials and generation Z. He said the millennial generation Y are considered to be those born in 1980-1994 and tend to be raised by single parents, and they are technologically wise.

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According to him Generation Z post millennial, igeneration, gen tech, digital native are those born between 1995 and 2010, they are less traditional and are more likely to be single parents, and are more entrepreneurial, more into phones than television.

He said that these two generations have in common arguably the advent of social media and the millennial are likely to reach adulthood around year 2000 at about the time GSM came into Nigeria, this meant that their popular mode of communication was less likely to be face-face, and as such both generations are more often lived in a virtual world where social media gained a lot of prominence.

Ibihunwa said they are therefore more likely to have less social and interpersonal skills compared to older generations and the problem with this is that a lot of make believe and fake personalities come into play.

Ibihunwa added ” for that reason, we have children who will become sad because they cannot show off pictures of their family on vacation abroad when they see their mates showing off such pictures, even if they are fake, this in turn can affect them and lead them to questions. This is made worse by a technological world where someone can create a photo-shopped image of a beautiful person. All this is to diminish the self esteem of a child who already lacks self belief and confidence”.

He said cyber bullying is also another accompaniment of social media, which these young people have to now deal with ” people who would not ordinarily be bold enough to abuse and bully others are now able to do so in the virtual world, and this has precipated depression and suicidal thoughts among children who are  are less resilient” Ibihunwa said.

Suicide account for about one million deaths world wide annually, and for every death by suicide 20-25 more have attempted, according to WHO, the global health observatory puts the global age standardised suicide rate at 11.4 per 100,000 people, and suicide is the second leading cause of death among those aged 15-29 years.

The rate in Nigeria is put at 9.5 per 100, 000. It has been strongly linked to depression and also drug abuse, directly or in association with depression.

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While suicide is not a new occurrence globally, there is a worrying concern that  suicide among youths is on the rise.

This is particularly troubling for countries like  Nigeria that have a relatively youthful population, where they make up a sizeable number and are the major productive age group.

To lose them to suicide has grave consequence for economic growth, studies have found that rises from 0.6 per 100, 000 among this aged 15-19 years. The rate of suicide attempts among adolescent has been put at 12 percent.

Suicide does not just occur in high income countries but is a global phenomenon in all regions of the world. In fact, over 79 percent of global suicides occurred in low and middle income countries.

Suicide is a serious public health problem; however, suicides are preventable with timely, evidence based and often low cost intervention.

For national response to be effective, a comprehensive multi sectoral suicide prevention strategy is needed.

According to WHO, globally, the availability and quality of data on suicide and suicide attempts is poor, only 60 member states have good quality vital registration data that can be used directly to estimate rates.

It is likely that under reporting and misclassification are greater problems for suicide than for most other causes of death.

An expert, Prof. Bamidele Ayodeji, lamented on the stigmatization around mental health, citing that you let it known you visited a psychiatrist for help people think you are mad, if it is in the office they look at you in a strange way.

“When people have psychological break down there are kinds of reason attributed to it, the most popular one in our countries is spiritual attack, you find some highly placed educated people still piloting such ignorance. We realized that one thing we need to do is to educate people that mental health crisis can affect anybody without  having spiritual colouration. We came from a superstitious society, but we are looking at it from scientific point of view that somebody with suicide thoughts can be helped”, he said.

Bamidele continue, ” we need  funding, we need partners, we do not say bring money but if you bring it is okay, for instance, partners who sell telephone can give us then we give it to the trained personnel, you can also train helpers for us. Where a case is serious and the person need a doctor, we need to subsidise the treatment, we need funds to do the documentary as well”, he emphasized.

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The WHO insists that suicide is preventable.  The apex UN health agency said there are a number of measures that can be taken to prevent suicide and suicide attempts.

These includes, reducing access to the means of suicide example pesticides, firearms, certain medications, responsible reporting by media, introducing alcohol policies to reduce the harmful use of alcohol, early identification and treatment and care of people with mental and substance disorder, chronic pain and acute emotional distress, training of non specialized health workers in the assessment and management of suicidal behaviour, and follow up care for people who attempted suicide and provision of community support.

Suicide is  a complex issue and therefore prevention require coordination and collaboration among multiple sectors of society, including the health sector and other sectors such as education, labour, agriculture, business,  justice, law, defense, politics and the media. These efforts must be comprehensive and integrated as no single approach alone can make an impact on an issue as complex as suicide.

A psychiatrist Dr. Abimbola Abiodun said according to research  suicide prevention can’t be effective without engaging religious leaders, this is because we looked at the dynamic part to care.

When Nigerians are ill, the first point of call before visiting the hospital is their spiritual leaders or herbalist.

Abimbola said one of the things to do is to create awareness among young people, we have started a series of lectures among young people in secondary schools, we take professional who talks to them about suicide ; we need to counsel and clear the mind of people against stigmatization that come with seeking help.

We need to do documentary, in English and translate it to different languages and our partners across country will play this on radio stations in the languages they understand, educating them on how to prevent suicide.

We also try to do talks visiting the churches and mosques and schools anywhere there is assembly, we talk to them and educate them about mental health.

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