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Suicide in Nigeria! Why it matters

With the recent link by experts, this breakdown in the ability to deal with life stresses, economic hardship, relationship break-ups and mental health are among the factors speeding up suicidal cases in Nigerians.

Imagine its 1916 lunatic law passed on to the country by the colonial masters, after 103 years Nigeria still using old mental health law. Up till now hundreds of thousands of Nigerians still die from suicide unnecessarily.

Meanwhile, legislations on Nigerian Mental Health Act policies that could have enhanced access to better mental healthcare and expanded the coverage for Nigerians have continued to suffer approval from the National Assembly.

In Nigeria, the Suicide Research and Prevention Initiative (SURPIN), which partners with the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria (APN), has found that about one-fifth of suicide cases seen at its affiliated institution are those aged 13-19 years, and that the majority of the callers were aged 20- 39 years, and 63.5 percent of them were having thoughts of suicide at the time of calling; 28.2 percent were students

The majority of suicides worldwide are related to mental illnesses. Among those, depression, substance use, schizophrenia and other psychosis constitute the most relevant risk factors, but also anxiety, personality-, eating- and trauma-related disorders as well as organic mental disorders significantly add to unnatural causes of death compared to the general population.

There is always tendency to trivialize suicide and attempted suicide. The temptation of being judgmental, stereotypical, hostile and negative criticism is very high and this leads stigma

“Suicidality represents a major societal and health care problem; it thus should be given a high priority in many realms,” said Taiwo Sheikh, president of the Association of Psychiatrists of Nigeria (APN) who spoke recently during the 10th Annual Symposium of Health Writers Association of Nigeria (HEWAN) in his presentation Suicide Prevention and Mental Wellbeing: Creating an enabling environment through legislation.

According to Sheikh, creating an enabling environment for suicide prevention in Nigeria through legislation requires urgent overhaul of our criminal legal system that will decriminalise suicide and attempted suicide, passage of the mental health bill that will promote mental well-being, prevent mental illness and ensure access to treatment of mental disorders.

“Lunatic Law currently practised is archaic; the law has been unable to adequately provide for mental health care on equal footing with physical health and gives no attention to mental health care financing or access to such services within primary care settings.

“It envisages the presence of ‘asylums’ which would usually be established by ‘local government councils and It fails to focus clearly on such rights as those related to dignity and human autonomy and it provides no direction as to healthcare issues such as consent, privacy as well as confidentiality,” he explained.

In Nigeria, there are socio-economic reasons which push people into suicide than a traditional exercise in the mental health sector. There are fewer than 500 psychiatrists nationwide to take care of 200 million people.

“Suicide is the second leading cause of death especially among the youth and it is sad that government has not prioritise any form of intervention programme to prevent the trend,” said Sheikh.

Sheikh said that the high incidents of suicide on the lack of prevention strategies and programmes in the country.

“In Europe, they have 13 programmes, America has eight, Western Pacific has five, South East Asia has two programmes while in African and Nigeria, we have zero intervention programmes.”

“So, you can understand why suicide rate is on the increase here in our country. It is declining in those places because they have put certain things in place,” he said.

In view of the severe deficiencies of the current State legislation and the lack of a national and comprehensive modern mental health act, several attempts have been made to enact a brand new national mental health act, which will apply in all states of the federation.

The most current one is the 2019 “Mental Health and Substance Abuse bill” which has attempted to address many of the lapses observed until then and has included substance abuse.

However, a health industry expert says “Mental health professionals, doctors and counsellors can be reached out to manage suicidal tendencies. The proactive steps taken by several such professionals in the capacity of leaders has helped and has the potential to help save thousands of lives.”

“Occurrence of suicide tends to be under-reported and misclassified due to both traditional and social pressures, and possibly completely unreported in some areas,” says expert.

Nigeria ranks 71 out of 177 countries accounting for 9.9 suicides per 100,000 populations of deaths annually”, according to data from the 2018 global Suicide rate report by World population review.

Nigeria however, reported cases of suicide rate in the country has seen numbers at the double by poisoning using pesticides as one of the most effective ways commit suicide , the WHO said as it urged governments to adopt suicide prevention plans to help people cope with stress and to reduce access to suicide means.

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