Troubling: More Nigerians are committing suicide and it’s growing
One afternoon in 2017, Allwell Orji, a medical doctor, stopped his car on a bridge in Lagos and plunged into the lagoon while his driver watched in disbelief.
Days later, a woman identified as Titilayo attempted to commit suicide on the same bridge but was rescued by some police officers.
The bridge was the Lagos Third Mainland Bridge and it has become the latest staging ground for suicide for residents of the commercial city.
The 11.8 kilometres length (7.3 miles) bridge completed in 1990 is reported to be the longest in Nigeria, connecting the Lagos mainland with the island.
In August 2022, a video went viral showing an elderly man plunging into the lagoon on the Third Mainland Bridge as onlookers tried without success to stop him.
His reason for suicide was that some people accused him of stealing a certain amount of money and he was asked to return the money in 24 hours.
The man, however, denied the accusations and having no means to return the money, he chose to end it all via suicide.
Also, earlier this month, Adetutu Adedokun, a woman said to be an operative of the Department of State Services (DSS) alighted from a cab on top of the bridge after a heated phone call with someone identified as her fiancé, and jumped into the lagoon, her body is yet to be recovered.
As the cases of bridge suicides escalate, it is expected that drastic measures are put in place to curb it, like in San Francisco, USA, where a lot has been done to stop people from killing themselves from the top of the Golden Gate Bridge, like the construction of anti-suicide nets.
Suicide among Nigerians is not committed just through plunging into the lagoon; there are several other ways that people have attempted to take their own lives.
For instance, an unidentified man reportedly hanged himself in a fly over in Yenogoa, Bayelsa State, on Monday, November 28.
Understanding suicide and its classes
Many of the cases and the reasons behind them can be situated in the classification of suicide by Emile Durkheim, a French Sociologoist. According to Durkheim, egoistic suicide, altruistic suicide, anomic suicide and fatalistic suicide are the four classes of suicide.
In his view, “Egoistic suicide stems from the absence of social integration.”
“People who commit this type of suicide see themselves as social outcasts, loners and outsiders,” he explained.
These individuals are unable to find their feet or adjust to societal demands and feel that no one cares for them; thus, suicide becomes an escape route to end it all.
“Altruistic suicide occurs when people are so deeply entangled with certain social groups that they are willing to sacrifice their own life to fulfill some obligation for the group.”
“Such groups might include some ultra-secretive political organisations or religious and cults who encourage members to engage in suicide bombings and self-immolation.”
“Anomic suicide occurs due to depression, frustration and stress caused by social pressure.”
“This happens when individuals suffer extreme financial loss, disappointment from relationships, etc. People may be driven to commit suicide as a means of escape.”
“Fatalistic suicide happens when people are placed under extreme rules and regulations such as in despotism and slavery.”
“At this point, people lose the sense of individuality and often resort to suicide.”
Scary growing trend
A recent report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) titled “Suicide in the World: Global Health Estimates.” states that Nigeria sits atop the suicide index as having the highest suicide rate in Africa, with over 17,000 lives lost to suicide per annum.”
The report also revealed that on a global scale, at least one person takes their life every 40 seconds.
According to the report, hanging, pesticide self-poisoning, and shooting are the three commonest methods of suicide.
The report noted that “Suicide is a serious global public health issue. All ages, sexes and regions of the world are affected (and) each loss is one too many”.
Suicide rate is highest in high-income countries and the second leading cause of death among young people aged between 15 and 29 years after road injury, it added.
And among teenage girls aged 15 to 19, it’s the second biggest killer after maternal conditions.
In teenage boys, suicide ranked third behind road injury and violence.
Nigerians, especially the youth have been found to commit suicide due to frustration borne out of the country’s dwindling economic situation.
Unemployment, depression, mental issues, societal pressure and hopelessness have driven people to turn to suicide as the only option.
Some Nigerians have admitted to having one suicidal thought or the other at one point in their lives.
Emmanuel Madaki, a young university graduate revealed that his own experience was when he realised that most of his friends were progressing in life, whereas it seemed his life was stagnant with no positive change.
“I tried to end it all and even considered taking one substance or the other to make that possible or even hang myself”, he said, “ but thanks to my beloved friends and family who did everything possible to bring me out of that condition”.
Also, Joy Hassan, who said she had just graduated, disclosed how “at a point in my life, while in school, my grades were dropping, and I felt I was a failure, and it affected me psychologically, and the suicidal thoughts were just popping up.”
“However, my course adviser sent for me one day, had a heart-to-heart chat with me, and after counseling me, he reached out to my parents, whom I was scared of even telling about what was going on.”
“With collaborative efforts, they were able to change the narrative, and I gradually started seeing more reasons to live and have a positive mindset. Thankfully, I am a graduate today.”
Norah Nzekwe, a married woman and an employee was weighed down by family responsibilities. Unable to meet up with her responsibilities in the face of her meagre salary, Nzekwe said she was depressed and considered taking her own life.
She, however, said that her closest friend, who noticed what was going on, had to engage some people who counseled her and were monitoring all her movements to prevent her from causing harm to herself.
Health experts said more attention should be given to people who fall into these categories as they may be prone to suicide anytime.
Maiyaki Peter Mosigomu, a medical expert, acknowledged that, indeed, cases of suicide in Nigeria had assumed an alarming dimension.
He said, “To talk about the solution, one must first carry out an appraisal of the causes or trigger factors”.
“The various causes include the high prevalence of personality disorders in our environment these days. People tend to have over-exaggerated ideas about their abilities, so any disappointment leads to suicide ideation.”
He also highlighted “easy access and the high abuse rate of hard substances like marijuana, psychotic drugs and stimulants, among others.”
“The prevailing high rate of unemployment and hard economic situation in our nation, make it difficult for people to fulfill their financial obligations, as well as pressure from extended family members who are dependent, poor and wretched.”
“Increased peer pressure and comparative analysis of success in career and life generally made more obvious by social media display of wealth.”
According to him, “failed promises, failed romantic relationships resulting in disappointment, the jilting of lovers” are also some of the causes.
“Frustration emanating from traumatic events in life and bruised ego, including cases of release of intimate/sex tapes into the public space, bullying, bereavement, chronic and recurrent unfavourable events.”
On his part, Rasheed Rasheed Senior, a healthcare chaplain, who deals with such cases in the United States, said, “suicide or suicidal thought can be broadly classified into two: that of social engineering and metaphysical, depending on the side we want to tilt to because of belief and religious inclination”.
According to him, “more often than not, the ones commonly experienced are the socially engineered ones which may be triggered through social problems such as bullying, hatred, loss of job, problems in marriage etc.”
He revealed that “suicidal thought or suicide may set in because of shame/humiliation/scandal, hopelessness, poverty and debt.”
Rasheed Senior noted that suicidal thoughts could not be wished away, especially when a human being is at the point of frustration without seeing any hope in sight.
However, Dr. Mosigomu said, “It should start with recognising the warning signs and nipping them in the bud.”
“It involves having a comprehensive public health structure that is sound and pays special attention to mental health services,” he said.
“Psychotherapy is essential. People’s minds should be conditioned to absolve the unforeseen shocks of life.”
“Government should be mindful of the harmful effects of harsh economic policies and so, thread softly’.
“Our religious leaders should be encouraged to use their platforms to promote quality mental health issues.”
“The populace should be encouraged to speak up whenever in stress. Government should not discourage free speech.”
“Sales of harmful drugs, hard substances, psychoactive drugs and others should have strident conditions.”
“NDLEA should be empowered to take proactive steps lending a helping hand, while the government should stiffen access to harmful substances, guns, poisoning agents”.
Similarly, Rasheed advised that “absolute patience on the side of the depressed person may sound like a religious solution, but it is a psycho-social thing that helps people to cope.”
He states, “While hopelessness is one of the major tools that push people to take their lives, hope is, however, one of the best tools to fight depression.”
“Motivational/Inspirational stories and histories of great men (if in a religious circle, then stories of prophets in the bible/Quran) on how they faced the difficulties and triumphed.”
He stated, “The most important, especially if the person in question has decided to end it, at that point, such a person does not need hope but rather needs assurance. Let them know that you are in their shoes, let them know you know how they feel, tell them there is the solution (even if there is not), you must give assurance to give such person a new lease of life.”
In the same vein, a medical practitioner who deals with such cases daily, Queen Ihuoma, advised that “People should look out for one another to know what’s going on in their lives from time to time.”
“When one faces depression at any given moment, the approach is to seek expert help, seek counsel.”
“Bottling up these issues alone might lead to suicidal thoughts.”
She added, “There should be more tightening of control and regulation of the production and use of insecticides which have been identified as one of the means of suicide in Nigeria.”
“Governments at all levels should also work towards improving the quality of life of Nigerians.”
“This can be achieved through people-oriented policies that will reduce the high cost of living and reduce poverty to a minimum.”