When news broke penultimate Friday that a First City Monument Bank Plc manager, Olisa Nwakoby, had pulled a gun on his own head and committed suicide in front of a church in Lekki, Lagos State, many discussions about his death pointed to the obvious and easy reason – the fact that he was involved in a N350m bad debt, which he was under pressure to pay back.
But a relation of the deceased would later explain in a report that such amount of money could not have been the main reason for his suicide as Nwakoby could have raised the money easily being from an affluent background.
In a society where people are inclined to ascribe the supernatural factor to ‘abominations’ such as suicide, people rarely talk about the mental state of the victims.
According to experts, people become suicidal when they are teetering on the edge of their psychological state, needing just a little shove to push them over the edge.
Every 40 seconds, one person commits suicide somewhere in the world, which tallies to 800,000 suicides annually, worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation.
Perhaps, Nwakoby’s social status made him an unlikely candidate for suicide in the eyes of many, but the WHO says being suicidal knows no status.
In Nigeria over the last few months, cases of suicide that came to public knowledge spotlight a problem that has yet to attract any policy attention.
Just this last Wednesday, a landlord, Popoola Adepoju, hanged himself in Idi-Ose community in Ona Ara Local Government Area of Ibadan, Oyo State
The 48-year-old, who left behind a three-page suicide note, was found dangling from a rope tied to a ceiling fan in his room.
His family and friends said he was going through a very difficult time forcing him to put his car up for sale. But he was said to have been offered far less than the price of the car.
In May 2016, 46-year-old Celestina Mamah had just undergone a routine test in Udemu Local Government Area of Enugu, which revealed that she was HIV positive.
Racked by fear of the unknown and unable to cope with the fearful news despite doctors’ advice that it was not a death sentence, Mamah walked into a forest and stabbed herself to death.
That same month, a civil servant in Abia State’s Ministry of Lands and Survey, 52-year-old Dee Nwankwo, who had not received his salary for some months, decided to end his life.
With four children in school and a wife he could no longer support, Nwankwo, who hailed from Ndume in Umuahia North Local Government Area of the state, hung himself.
In his suicide note, he explained he could no longer cater for his family.
Also, in Gombe State in April, a young man, identified simply as Habu, committed suicide by jumping into a well after his parents refused to approve of a woman he had wanted to marry.
And even in Anambra State, just few weeks ago, residents of a community in the state woke up to the gory sight of the body of a man in his 80s, dangling from a tree. No one could determine the motive behind the act.
Why suicides may increase
Experts say financial and economic troubles push many to the edge in Nigeria, which is rated 103 out of 157 countries in the United Nation’s 2016 World Happiness Report.
Psychologist and lecturer at the University of Lagos, Prof. Oni Fagbohungbe, said that it is very likely that suicide may increase in Nigeria. He explained that the current economic hardship in the country is the perfect situation that provokes suicide because all the stressors are available.
“With failure, frustration here and there and inability to do things one’s heart desire, self-reproach comes in. Then, aggression also comes in. The individual reacts to the society which is perceived as the cause of your failure. These are the kinds of situation that aggravate suicidal tendencies,” he said.
According to the WHO, 75 per cent of global suicide occurred in low-and middle-income countries while suicide accounts for 1.4 per cent of all deaths worldwide, making it the 15th leading cause of death in 2012.
“While the link between suicide and mental disorders (in particular, depression and alcohol use disorders) 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,” the WHO said in its 2016 factsheet on suicide.
Prof. Fagbohungbe said the communality of the African society was a major factor in the prevention of suicide in times past, but as this gradually became eroded in the individualism of modern day, suicidal tendencies gained root.
Consultant psychologist, Prof. Olanrewaju Adebayo, who shared the same thought, said that was why suicide was seen as un-African in times past and not as common as it is today.
Prof. Adebayo also explained that in a time like this when the society is full of stressors, increase in suicide is a strong possibility.
“Everywhere you go, you find stress and these days, economic stress is being added to it. If the coping mechanism of an individual cannot handle it, suicide comes into their thought,” he said.
The don explained one of the major contributors to depression and suicide in the country is the fact that mental health in the country still remains in the back water of ignorance.
According to him, Nigerians would rather go to consult a physician about a nagging headache than visit a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist about their depression.
Prof. Adebayo said, “You need a sound mind in a sound body. When you see the way mad men roam the streets in the country, you will understand that we are not taking mental health seriously enough. It is not just about government. But the mindset of Nigerians is where the solutions start.
“If you advise people who are depressed to go and see a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist, they will think that what you are saying is that they are mad.
“Currently, workers are not able to take care of their families, due to non-payment of salaries. The pressure gives them a lot of stress. This is a depressing condition that may trigger suicidal thoughts.”
Psychologist and University of Lagos lecturer, Prof. Makanju Ayobami, who also provided context to the incidence of suicide in Nigeria, said he believed it was likely to increase in the country.
He said African society has always had the social support which serves as a buffer against the harsh conditions, which was why suicide was not so common in the past.
“For instance, living in a place like New York or London, you probably don’t know who your next door neighbour is. But here, we walk into each others’ houses even as bad as it is,” the don said.
He said but now, a lot still has yet to be put in place in terms of public awareness and policies that would stem the tide of suicide.
Is your friend suicidal? This is how you know
In Nigeria, when people threaten suicide, they are often ridiculed and derided while some countries have gone a step further to establish suicide hotlines.
Experts say this is an extension of the general atmosphere of apathy towards issues like depression and suicidal tendencies in the country.
In their conversation with Saturday PUNCH, Professors Fagbohungbe and Adebayo highlighted some symptoms one should look out for to determine whether an individual may be suicidal or not.
According to Fagbohungbe, a suicidal person experiences mood swings from extreme depression to extreme excitement. Later, the mood swing tends towards the depression axis and becomes prolonged.
He said when an individual becomes reclusive and avoids interacting with others, this may be another symptom.
“At a stage, the person starts talking to himself a lot. At another time, the person might want to force himself to participate in a discussion but his line of thought may be incoherent,” the don said.
Prof. Adebayo added that one should be wary when an individual starts asking people around him or her weird questions such as ‘If I am no longer around, will you miss me?’
According to him, other morbid existential questions coupled with complaints about inadequacy, expression of hopelessness and failure are things that should cause one’s alarm bells to go off if one cares about such individual.
Prof. Adebayo said, “When people talk like that, we always advise that they should not be ignored. Such person should be watched. Intervention by families works. Calling relations together to talk to the person is an equivalent of the social support needed for a suicidal person.
“Usually, people feel hopeless when social support is lacking. And when that happens, a suicidal person may take the plunge.
“A man who sees his family suffering and is so helpless he cannot do anything and there is no family to speak with him, is on the verge of crossing the threshold.”
According to experts, it helps if people understand these signs and help out in any little way they can when they encounter symptoms that are consistent with that of a suicidal person.
A teacher, Caroline Olowoyo, told our correspondent about a situation she encountered while inside a cab in Ibadan, Oyo State.
She said, “I have never seen anything like that in my life. There were two of us in the vehicle. As soon as we settled in, the driver started talking about how hard life had been for him in the last two months. Before I knew what was happening, he had started sobbing.
“The man said he just watched his children helplessly as they suffered without knowing what to do for them. He said he had three boys and a girl and had always boasted that he would pamper his little girl. He said now, he could barely put food on the table despite being a taxi driver.
“He said so many things that showed that he was truly depressed. I had no doubt as he was talking that if things became worse for him, with the way he was talking, he could commit suicide. I did not even know what to say. Luckily, the other passenger rose up to the challenge and kept telling the driver not to lose hope. Just to be able to speak with the driver more, the passenger did not even stop when we got to his bus stop.”
For Prof. Ayobami, the main thing to look out for are abrupt changes in behaviour.
According to him, when an individual who used to be outward and jovial suddenly starts staying indoors most of the time, there is need to talk to him.
He said it is key to look out for strange behavioural patterns in such individual.
“You can determine whether the person is thinking rationally. If you have any doubt, tell him to see a doctor because many may kick against seeing a psychiatrist. Then a doctor may be able to persuade the person to see a proper specialist,” Prof. Ayobami said.
How a suicidal person can be helped
Experts say it is very important to make sure a suicidal person shares his problem with people by talking about it.
Prof. Adebayo said family and friends should make sure such an individual is never alone.
He said, “Talk to them, advise them that there is a silver lining in a dark cloud. One has to be able to restructure the negative thinking and conviction of a suicidal person with positivity. Only then can such intervention have any impact.
“Let them know they are not alone and that the problem is not the end of life.”
Prof. Fagbohungbe, said the social support of families is vital for the prevention of suicide.
He said, “In those days, the social support was there and everybody was their brother’s keepers. If you woke up and looked moody, people would ask what was wrong with you.
“We need to increase our communality. Encourage such people to speak out about their issues and show concern.
“At the governmental level, a drastic situation demands a drastic solution. The government should as a matter of urgency, tackle the variables that instigate suicidal tendencies.”
Prof. Ayobami also said suicide rate can only be reduced in the country when the government makes life a little bit easier for people and also provide opportunities for people to get professional help.
He advised a change in the country’s health policy delivery system to include mental health professionals in all hospitals.
The psychologist said there is need to empower the social welfare departments in the country.
“In some countries, they send out social workers to homes to check on children and newly delivered mothers because post-partum is a serious issue,” he said.
What religious houses are doing wrong
– Iloh, Ahmad
Chief Missioner, Ansar-Ud-Deen Society of Nigeria, Sheikh AbdulRahman Ahmad, said when there is an increase in suicide in the society, religious houses should start asking themselves hard questions about their failure to give hope amidst hopelessness.
He said the fact that “crass materialism” had taken over in some religious houses put a lot of pressure on individuals.
The Imam said, “Suicide is a combination of hopelessness, feeling of emptiness and that nothing good can ever come from one’s life again.
“The role of religion is to give hope; to fill a vacuum in the lives of adherents in the face of hopelessness. This is why the scripture is filled with stories of transformation; grass to grace, powerlessness to influence, hopelessness to achievement.
“Many religious leaders now say categorically that if you are poor, you need to check your faith. The display of ostentation has taken over.
“Religious houses must ask themselves questions when there is so much suicide in the land like: “Are we really delivering the message of God or have we replaced it? Are we giving hope or are we killing it? Are we models of righteousness and piety or symbols of crass materialism? In the immediate past, religion leaders were known for abstinence and near asceticism not for the display of wealth.”
General Overseer of Soul Winning Chapel, Rev Moses Iloh, said the fact that suicide was becoming rampant in the society has to do with the selfishness of human nature and the failure of individuals to adhere to the truth of their faith.
God has created everything good for humans. Some individuals who have comfort and everything good on earth think these belong to them alone and they are not willing to share with other people.
Rev. Iloh said, “This is very common with Christians. Today people think being a Christian means amassing wealth. On Sunday, you have a big Bible and you are ‘holy’, on Monday to Friday, you are wicked, selfish, greedy and a robber.
“Everything we think we own and enjoy was given to us freely. Take for instance, whether you are Yoruba, Ibo or Chinese or Hausa, rich or poor, God has made oxygen free for everybody, but when someone is ill, you have to pay a lot of money for that same oxygen in the hospital. If a family cannot afford it, the patient dies”
All the good things that the lord has made for us, if you come to Islam.
According to him, Nigeria is a beautiful place to live on account of its lack of natural disasters, good weather and fertile land. But these resources have hitherto remained inadequate for all because of the selfishness of many.
“If churches preach materialism , they push people to go to the devil to get money. When people steal money in Nigeria, you will find a Christian among them. But no faith preaches stealing or cheating. Without the people teaching and following the truth of their faiths, these kinds of things will continue.”