Fr. Anthony Aneke & Chikezie Ogbonna
The country has been awash by the increasing stories of suicide from some Nigerians especially her youths. It seems that in recent time, no week will pass without the news of either a suicide act or an attempted suicide of depressed and frustrated individual hitting the air waves across the country. This has become a major concern for many especially with a recent report that the country has become a home to one of the most frustrated people on earth with the world most extreme poor people. No doubt, this is not just the best time to be a Nigerian with harsh socio-economic condition biting hard on families and young people who happens to make up 60% of the entire population. However, experts have started to speak up against the back drop of the alarming rate of suicide in the country and have called for a serious action from all stake holders to control this rising tide while warning that if nothing is done as a matter of urgency, the country might just be waking up to many more suicides in the future.
Speaking to The Choice Flame Newspaper, an expert of clinical Psychology and President of Nigerian Psychological Association, Prof. Michael Ezenwa decried what he termed a national disaster that needs decisive action. In an exclusive chat in his office at School of Post Graduate Studies, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, the Professor of Psychology who is also an expert on mental health said that the growing concern on mental health issues cannot be far from what he described as the strange happenings in the country as it relates to the rising suicide cases across the country.
According to him; “We now have many cases of people taking their own lives, students who commit suicide and so on. The young man that killed himself in UNN was having mental health issue and its a sign. The issue of suicide has increased. The recently released national survey by the United Nation’s office on drug and crime in Nigeria showed high prevalence of drug use among young people, men and women inclusive, drug use is also a mental health issue. If you also look at the ordinary person on the street, many people seem to be talking to themselves while walking. People seem unhappy. There is economic pressure and so all these factors seem to exacerbate mental health concerns and that’s probably why you find many unusual things happening.
Husbands killing wives for minor disagreements, increased cases of divorce in our courts and in the churches, brothers killing brothers for minor misunderstandings. These are pointing to the increasing concerns. Nigeria has not been like this”.
Many have only cited depression as the major cause of suicide, however, Prof. Ezenwa who believes that suicide is the worst thing anybody can think of and shouldn’t be contemplated in any case whatsoever revealed other factors aside depression as some of the possible factors that might lead one to want to take his life. However, he identified suicide as an indication of an extreme condition of depression. According to Prof; “Well, it’s difficult to say exactly why people commit suicide because it is the worst thing somebody can think of. Therefore, what may have caused it in one person may be different from what may have caused it in the other person. Generally, suicide can indicate extreme condition of depression. It could occur as extreme form of depression. In some very severe depressive state, the thought of taking one’s life could occur. Depression is a major cause of suicide according to literature. But there are also other persons who commit suicide for other reasons, in some case even cultural reasons. There are people who would take their life as a way of proving a point. There are also cases where people take their life because of shame; they feel they cannot be alive to witness something like this or that. If you ask me, really, suicide should not be contemplated by any human being because there is no situation that has never been, so any situation people find themselves, there’s always a solution.
What people need is to seek for other possibilities. We tend to seek for one possibility, it must be this way and that is the challenge. Every situation has many possibilities in terms of solution, if you look to the next side, you’ll see the solution. So there are numerous factors that can lead to suicide, part of which is mental health issues. There are depressive conditions with suicidal attempts or thoughts; there are also psychotic conditions that can influence suicide in the individual if not properly addressed, so the causes vary. But, I want to say it is not an option to be considered even in all the cases. People need to look the other side to find better ways of dealing with what seems very challenging”, Prof. Ezenwa advised.
Identifying a depressed Person
Professor Ezenwa revealed some of the symptoms to watch out for in a depressed person. According to him; symptoms may depend on the individual.“Sometimes people think being depressed is being sad, No!.Somebody can become sad as a result of some form of provocation, form of disappointment. It can be momentary just like happiness. Depression does not mean sadness. But, for some people who are depressed, some may be sad, some may not be sad but one key factor you see in them is that they may not enjoy life as they used to and this may manifest in different ways. Self-care may reduce, routine activities may be disrupted,apartheid my increase or decrease and in some cases there may be sense of guilt. There may be the feeling of hopelessness and worthlessness as well as uselessness.
With this behavior, the person might withdraw from work; the person’s pattern of dressing may go low. If it’s someone who usually dressed formally, he may start dressing in a casual way; unfortunately people may think the person just started developing new styles without knowing that the person is going down mentally. But, one serious index that everybody should watch out for is at any moment an individual feels that life is no more worth it then there is danger of suicide. That very singular question, if somebody says, ‘life does not worth living’ and the person means it, please check that person, that individual needs immediate attention for that could indicate suicidal tendency”, Prof. Ezenwa advised.
How to help the depressed
On seeking help and ways to help depressed individuals, Prof. Ezenwa said that their inability to seek help is the illness itself. According to him; somebody who has depression often time does not know he has depression,he feels this is usual and that is the illness, Prof. establishes. And that is why according to him it is recommended that people be their brother’s keepers.
“When people stop their usual life activity, watch them for signs of depression. They tend to feel lonely and tend to feel misunderstood. But, they may not know themselves that they are having depression.
If they know they are depressed, they will seek help because naturally people want to live, so it’s a form of ill health. Unfortunately in this environment, people don’t seem to appreciate it as a very serious health condition”, he said.
Prof. Ezenwa further advised people to seek professional help in things like this. “I think if someone has mental challenge, yes you can pray for the person, part of the prayer should be to guide the person to find suitable solution. Individuals can have control of their life through deliberate and willfully purposeful behaviors”, he said.
He further decried the increasing rate of drug abuse amongst young people in the country, even the abuse of legal drugs like pain killer drugs. He advised all stake holders which cuts across families, religious organizations, schools, Civil Society Organizations as well as government to rise to the occasion and do the needful in arresting what he called a national disaster. He says if not handled well, will spell more doom for the country as more suicides might be witnessed.
On helping someone in depression, Prof. Ezenwa raised the hope that a depressed person can be treated. In his words; “The best treatment is psychotherapy, it’s only in severe cases that you’ll require medication. Clinical psychologists are involved in the management of depression as well as prevention of depression. Psychiatrists are involved especially when medication is needed and to monitor the impact of such medication. Clinical psychologists are critical to management of depression”.
Prof. Ezenwa further advocated for people to take relevant actions as he described health as a personal responsibility. He also bemoaned the prevalent ignorance on the significance of psychotherapy and the dangers emotional problems posed to the health. He frowned at the lack of attention it is getting.
“Many people do not know about Psychotherapy and emotional problems which is a health condition that requires attention. We do not understand emotional issues as important and critical as physical issues. There is poor knowledge of emotional issues in our environment as well as how they can be addressed and this needs to be addressed”, Prof. advised.