Over the recent months, even if you were not paying attention, you must have come across a social media feed or news article bearing the headline: “Attempted Suicide” Suicide, Sniper Suicide, etc, however, experts offer tips against depression, mental health challenges.
If you look closely at this recent news, you will find common denominators, the pesticide commonly known as Sniper, which you would agree with me is the most popular pesticide in Nigeria, and the age of the attempters, young adults, teens, and studies have shown that willful self-poisoning has become a common response to emotional distress and depression in these groups of people.
Following this recent reporting of attempted suicide was an outrage on social media calling for the outright ban of Sniper, and the chants intensified, ‘Ban Sniper, Ban Sniper, Ban Sniper!’ The more it was chanted, the more it gained traction, soon social media was divided into two main factions, one for the ban of Sniper, others against it, calling it an insufficient response to the problem plaguing Nigerians and ignoring what many know to be the real link to these suicides: Depression.
Even medical experts in the faction against the ban opined that people would find other means for suicide, like hanging, jumping off bridges and taking in other poisonous substances. I share these sentiments. Depression is a medical condition, a psychological state of unhappiness or low morale, which lasts longer than several weeks, and may include ideation of self-inflicted injury or in extreme case, suicide.
It is usually caused by a decrease in the level of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that serves as a contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness in human. What many people fail to understand is that Depression is a medical condition, not a spiritual attack, not a mood swing and as such requires medical attention to help the person living with depression get adequate care.
The conversation on the topic of Depression is not adequate and organisations like Mentally Aware Nigeria have tried to shine the light on mental health, which has very little exposure in this part of the world, so sufferers are left to their own devices and inadequate coping mechanisms, which may result, in extreme cases, in suicide.
Following this outrage on social media, NAFDAC released a statement restricting easy access to the most popular small packs of pesticides, including Sniper, among other brands, from supermarkets, malls, and stores.
But then, the question arises: How effective is this approach? Let us not forget that small farmers have depended on these small packs to increase the yield and quality of their crops, restricting them access to these packs will impact their ability to contribute to the total food production in Nigeria.
Small farmers have depended on this pesticide for over 5 decades as a way to control pests. Pesticide suicides and misuse primarily occur in rural areas of low- and middle-income countries in Africa, Central America, South-East Asia and the Western Pacific, Nigeria falls within this region.
While restriction to lethal means may be an effective method of preventing suicide, especially among impulse suicide attempters, it does not solve the major issue, which is depression and people will find other means to commit suicides.
Restriction to means of suicide may be particularly effective in contexts where the method is popular, highly lethal, widely available, and/or not easily substituted by other similar methods. Sniper does not meet these criteria in totality.
Restriction of Sniper and other brands does not exclude the possibility of other mentally distressed people substituting them for other methods that are just easily available. For suicide prevention to be highly effective, it should be implemented in conjunction with other suicide prevention strategies, which will include but not restricted to: Strengthening Economic support, identifying those at risk, access and delivery to suicide care, creating protective environments, connectedness, teaching coping and problem-solving skills, among others.
We have a mental health crisis on our hands and we cannot sit and fold our hands and focus on scoring cheap points; we need to treat the mental health crisis in Nigeria holistically, we need every hand on deck.
We have to call on the bodies responsible and this include the government to increase the level of mental health awareness in Nigeria and set up toll-free lines and counselling centres across the nation so that people battling depression can call or visit for help. You and I have our roles to play, but let us not assume that banning access to these pesticides solves our mental health crisis in any way, it does not.
Egemba is a global health advocate, and medical doctor with Avon Medical Practice, he writes from Lagos.