The Head, Clinical Psychology Department, Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Lagos, Dr Tayo Ajirotutu; a United States-based Child, Adolescent & Adult Psychiatrist, Dr Stella Bassey-Okoronkwo and other individuals have called for more awareness on mental illness in Nigeria, saying suicide incidents have continued to rise especially during COVID-19 pandemic.

They also urged the government at all levels to ensure schools, have at least, one psychologist on their staff list emphasizing, that the ideal would be the duo of a counsellor and mental health practitioner, adding that religious bodies should also create a mental health unit manned by mental health experts at their religious centres in order to reduce the rate of suicide in the country.

Speaking at the inaugural virtual meeting of a non-governmental organization, Suicide Is No Solution (SINS) with the theme: “Talking Suicide 1.0: Causes, Signs and Prevention,” the experts called for the review of the law punishing individuals who attempt suicide, stressing that such individuals needed care and support instead of prosecution.

The experts posited that there should be adequate training for counsellors in schools and religious organisations to manage the youths especially those with depression signs that could lead to suicide.

Dr Tayo Ajirotutu, the Lead Presenter at the meeting, stated that death by suicide has been on for decades and generations but has become a serious issue in Nigeria in the past four years skyrocketing during the current COVID-19 pandemic. The psychiatrist called for more education and enlightenment on suicide amongst Nigerian citizens and commended the Suicide Is No Solution (SINS) initiative.

He noted that individuals with suicidal tendencies and signs must be referred to experts, urging religious organisations and schools to train counsellors on required skills to counsel people with depression.

According to him: “Suicide begins with thoughts and behaviours and it is the second leading cause of death especially among the youths. The signs include someone either talking about killing himself, feeling of hopelessness, loneliness and rejection or having no reason to live and low self-esteem. Financial factors, traumatic reasons, prolonged stress, relationship and education issues, inability to meet targets, issues at work, home or religious organisations are other causes of suicide.”

Dr Ajirotutu warned that the issue of suicide cannot be confidential as family members and mental health experts must be involved, saying “If you want to kill yourself, identify why you want to, and look for another way out rather than taking your own life.” he said.

In her own submission, Dr Stella Bassey-Okoronkwo stressed that mental health awareness is one thing that Nigeria must go all out to make more people know that mental illness exists and people with such illness must be given the right counselling and recommendation.

According to her: “people struggling with depression, drug abuse, alcohol use disorders and anxiety have a higher incidence of contemplating suicide in the USA. We lose over 800,000 people yearly globally to suicide and we lose a lot more during late spring and early summers in the USA.”

Dr Bassey-Okoronkwo, who is the Medical Director, The Centre for Emotional Health, Christiansburg, Virginia, listed the warning signs to look out for in persons attempting suicide to include their inability to express their feelings, their behaviours, being more destructive and disrespectful, drinking excessively, being a lot more aggressive and agitated, withdrawal from families and friends, being more impulsive and reckless, low energy and loss of interest in things, receiving and giving away items.

She advised that when any of the warning signs are noticed, such a person must be referred for counselling.

A lawyer/Founder and Chief Executive Officer, The Vale College, Ibadan, Mrs Funso Adegbola, advocated that the section of the law that stipulates prosecution for attempted suicide should be repealed, calling on psychiatrists association, health professionals, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and interest groups to join hands to ensure that the law is repealed.

She stated that individuals who attempted suicide should go for mental rehabilitation and not prison, stressing that shortage of psychiatrists in Nigeria should be addressed as their services are needed and mental health professionals should be less stigmatized.

The SINS Project Lead, Mrs. Idy Toye-Arulogun, said the meeting was to increase the awareness level and better understanding of suicide amongst Nigerians with a view to reducing and eliminating to the barest minimum, the incidence in the country, saying that the meeting has helped to educate SINS volunteers and people on the causes, signs, and prevention of suicide.

While sharing her experience, Mrs, Ajoke Okonu, who contemplated suicide at the age of 16, said she fought the thoughts since she was 4 years old but didn’t commit the crime for the love of her mother, saying, “I wanted to take my life as a result of my parent’s broken marriage. I was physically abused, molested and when I could no longer hold it, I held the knife in the kitchen several times but my mother’s love held me back.”

In her own submission, the Co-Founder, LePhare Consultants, Mrs Ibiyemi Faturoti, urged anyone contemplating suicide to know that there is someone out there that cares and who is ready to help, noting that suicide should not be considered as an option during life’s struggles.

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