Mental health: Tackling Nigeria’s exponential suicide rate

By Blessing Chukwuneke

In January, Nigerians opened the year with the suicide report of Bolufemi Princess Motunrayo, a corps member serving in Enugu State who took her life after what looked like frustration as she wrote that there is “nothing worth living for” and that of Maxwell Lucky Enudi, a fresh graduate of the University of Calabar.

The trend continued in February too, an example of which was an official of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), Tope Akinde, who was said to have suffered from mental instability.

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March greeted us with llione Victoria’s death, an 85-year-old woman suffering from mental issues, who killed herself by jumping down a 3-storey building in Anambra state. April was eager to have its fair share and Friday Onyeonoziri who was having mental health challenges as well as Adeleke Rachel Tioluwani, a young promising writer with psychological issues were victims.

May somehow resisted the urge to cast its net in Nigeria but made us sad as it had it’s grip on Sushant Singh Rajput, a Bollywood actor loved my many. June could not wait as it whisked away Folashade Eloho Bello who took her life with a mixture of hypo and dettol.

July followed the trend as it swallowed Anita Haledu Ibrahim, a 14-year-old pregnant girl in Nasarrawa state. These are just a few of the victims. What will happen in August, September, October, November and December?

As the spate of suicide deaths continues to defy norm, it brings to mind the fact that the topic of mental health has continued to receive less attention than it deserves over the years. To some, you are regarded as weak if you are struggling with mental health issues. Suicide is considered a great abomination traditionally, condemned religiously and prohibited legally, yet the root cause has over time been ignored. Some feel that mental health problems do not exist except the very obvious one which is insanity where the victim often talks gibberish, acts in a ridiculous manner and if not monitored takes to the street, literally running mad.

Sometimes, these individuals are totally neglected by family members and allowed to eat rubbish from refuse dumps and walk in rags or totally reveal their true natural state, thereby depriving them of their basic human needs; food, shelter, clothing and care and exposing the them to various diseases.The results of our negligence and underestimation of mental health stare us in the face and we do not know who the next prey might be, hopefully no one.

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In 1948, the World Health Organization (WHO) defined health as “ a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. The definition of health by WHO emphasises the fact that man is not healthy if his mental state is suffering. Mental illness refers to a group of illnesses that may impact on a person’s thoughts, perceptions, feelings and behaviours (Better health channel, 2015).

Bipolar disorder, depression, personality disorder, schizophrenia, psychosis, suicidal feelings, post traumatic stress disorder (PSTD), schizoaffective disorder eating disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, self harm, anxiety and panic disorder are types of mental health problems, (Time to Change).

Mental illness is not gender or age selective, from toddlers down to teens, to youths and aged population mental health must be taken seriously for the sake of family, society and economy. The economy because only stable minds can produce a stable economy.

However, what efforts have we put into tackling the issue?

WHO on its part has rolled out efforts and programmes to solve this problem, but it is in our best interest as a country to take the issue seriously.

The 2006 WHO-AIMS report on mental health system in Nigeria reveals that “there is considerable neglect of mental health issues in the country. The existing Mental Health Policy document in Nigeria was formulated in 1991. Since its formulation, no revision has taken place and no formal assessment of how much it has been implemented has been conducted……No desk exists in the ministries at any level for mental health issues and only four per cent of government expenditures on health is earmarked for mental health.”

In general terms, several countries in Africa are better resourced in regard to mental health personnel. Countries such as South Africa, Egypt, and Kenya have more psychiatrists per 100,000 persons and also have higher proportions of psychiatric beds. Also, many countries in Africa also give better official attention to mental health issues.”

Psychologists, psychiatrists, the government, NGOs as well as enlightened and well-meaning Nigerians indeed have a huge role to play. A massive campaign is needed in all states of the country as the needed sensitisation is lacking, those who have embraced the idea of seeking professional help for mental health challenges are as little drops of water that make an ocean but the truth is it might take decades and probably the death rate would make that ocean faster than the water which puts the entire human population at a huge disadvantage.

This is a wake up call for Nigerian government, health authorities, stakeholders and every individual to take a stand against mental illness and suicide.

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