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Suicide: Why more people will go, by experts

It may sound inhumanly simplistic but suicide would appear to be ‘in vogue’. In this report pieced together by IHECHUKWU SUNDAY, experts explain why the seeming morbid fascination with death by self among Nigerians isn’t about to end so soon.

On Thursday, August 6, a first-year student in the Department of History and International Studies at the University of Calabar, Cross River State, Veronica Bako Myomuter, allegedly committed suicide after she was defrauded of money meant for her school fees.

The deceased, said to be a native of Katsina-Ala in Benue State, was 18 when she ended her life by ingesting a poisonous substance into her system after she was scammed of N100,000, money allegedly meant for her school fees which she couldn’t pay before the outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent lock-down arising therefrom.

She was said to have invested in a ponzi scheme, where she was promised double of her investment within minutes, but, alas, everything eventually turned out to be deception. And the only way out of the predicament for the teenager was suicide.

On Monday, August 3, 2020, residents of Amagu Umudiaka village, Ihe community in Nsukka Local Government Area of Enugu State, were taken aback when news filtered in that Mr. Emmanuel Eze had allegedly hanged himself in an uncompleted storey building in the area.

The father of three who hailed from Eha-Alumona also in Nsukka Local Government Area was found with a binding wire tied around his neck and hanging from the uncompleted building’s scaffold.

Since he didn’t leave any suicide note, nobody, including his wife, could explain what could have made Emmanuel, who was a tax collector at Ikpa Market, end his life in such a horrible manner.

Again, on Saturday, August 1, a middle-aged man was reported to have also committed suicide in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, because his girl-friend jilted him.

According to the report, the incident, which happened at Omuokiri village in Aluu community, Ikwerre Local Government Area of the State, occurred after the girl visited and called off the relationship.

The deceased, identified as Tailor, could not bear the sudden break-up, after efforts by neighbours to broker peace between him and the lady failed, so he decided to end his life at exactly 10pm on the fateful day.

The celebrated case of the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) student, Chukwuemeka Akachi who killed himself in May last year, ‘for no just cause’, is still fresh in the minds of people. The young man, a final year student of English and Literary Studies and reportedly a first class student, took his own life after dropping a suicide note on Facebook.

Akachi was said to have consumed two bottles of a poisonous substance to end his own life, in what was reportedly his second and final attempt at suicide.

Akachi had a long battle with mental health, which probably made him decide to take his own life as evidenced in one of his social media posts prior to his death.

Taking to his Facebook to post his suicide note, Akachi who was also a budding poet had written: “Forgive me. In case you are the one who found the body, I am really sorry. It had to be someone, you know. I have chosen Jo Nketaih’s poem as my suicide note: “They said you came looking for me. I didn’t drown; I was the water.” Where do atheists go to when they die? lol. Amen.”

In one of his previous posts on Facebook, he wrote about his battle with mental health and how it had affected his growth; He wrote: “My mental health has been on life support for a while now. Thanks to those who call. Text. Visit. Speak to me. May we always remember. May we never forget. You may have added a few hours, months or days to my time here. But you know life support is expensive, right? Thanks for trying. Amen.”

Countless Nigerians have jumped into the Lagos Lagoon to their own painful deaths. Some have reportedly parked their own cars and jumped into the Lagoon and, by extension, to their eternal rest. Countless others have also been saved from taking such deadly plunges. There is, for instance, the recent case of a suicide victim who was saved from untimely death by his own hands by Lagos Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu who settled the N5oo,000 loan for which Adeyinka Abiodun wanted to kill himself.

Cases of suicide have become so common these days that from north to south, east to west, the story is the same. And it is not limited to any category of people. Indeed, people of different classes – the poor, the rich, the educated, semi-illiterates, complete illiterates are all victims of the scourge. It has become an almost everyday occurrence, just that many of them are not reported. In the last one month, many Nigerians cutting across every class and culture have attempted to commit, or actually committed, suicide.

The trend, as abominable as it is, seems to be on the rise. Apart from the popular Guyana tragedy, where about 900 persons allegedly committed suicide on the advice of their leader, Jim Jones, people are believed to go for suicide option when they are totally depressed and hopeless. Jim Jones, also known as ‘The Mad Messiah,’ led a congregation called the People’s Temple cult. He told his followers that there was nothing to live for again on earth and that they should commit suicide and go to heaven. They all killed themselves by drinking a poisonous substance. He also drank the substance and died eventually.

Concerned Nigerians have attributed this growing morbid fascination with suicide to a number of factors, including spiritual ones.

For Mr. Chidiebere Eze, most people who commit suicide are constantly persuaded by an imaginary voice within them to end it all. “Some people who have had the courage to confide in other people about these strange voices have managed to survive, but those who tried to bear the torments silently have always taken to suicide,” he said.

He further stressed that suicide could also take the form of extreme egotism and selfishness, in which case, people who cannot accept defeat or bear the thought of other people being better than them, as well as those that are hungry for public adulation and adoration become prone to suicide.

Psychology of victims

For a Consultant Psychologist at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, Dr. Leonard Okonkwo, depression remains the major cause of suicide.

He explained that man is naturally driven by a principle that makes him seek pleasure and avoid pain. “So, when man begins to seek the opposite, like seeking death, then it becomes abnormal. And that is to say that suicide is not an accident but a deliberate act by an individual to terminate own life, which runs contrary to what man is driven by, which is the love of pleasure and avoidance of pain. So, it is abnormal,” he said.

So, why do people commit suicide? He identified hopelessness and an intense psychological pain associated with the experience as the main reason behind suicide. At that point, the person feels that the only way out of the pain is death and he or she goes ahead to take own life.

Dr. Okonkwo cited the three dimensional approach to suicide as canvassed by a renowned Psychiatrist, Carl Meninger, to drive home his point. “There is a sense of hate or vengeance, where there is a desire to kill. There is a sense of depression and hopelessness, where there is a desire to die and there is also a sense of guilt, which is a desire to be killed. So, it is an interrelationship among the three dimensions that eventually leads up to suicide,” he stated.

He also tried to distinguish between a suicide and a deliberate self-harm, which, according to him, could lead to suicide.

Said he: “There is a difference between suicide and deliberate self-harm. In suicide, the three dimensions are there, but in deliberate self-harm, the person involved does not really want to die; he only wants to draw attention to himself. So, he deliberately harms himself to draw attention. There may be suicide note and all that, but the real intent is to draw attention and not to kill self. But, sometimes, deliberate self-harm could become suicide when it is overdone. Not all suicides are actually meant to kill; some of them are deliberate self-harm that got out of hand.”

Although he believes depression is the major cause of suicide, mental illnesses are equally not left out. He described mental illness as a form of depression, even though some mental illnesses are not part of depression, but constitute very powerful causes of suicide.

He said depression could equally come in the form of physical pains experienced as a result of protracted illness. “For instance, someone who is experiencing physical pain as a result of illness may feel tired of the illness and wants to commit suicide. He may desire euthanasia (mercy killing), but where nobody is ready to offer that assistance, the person just takes overdose of drugs and kills himself. People can also commit suicide when they have a failed relationship, which is also a case of depression resulting in hopelessness. When people are isolated or ostracised in a community, they also tend to commit suicide. And the society will say the gods have killed the person, but the fact is that it is the isolation or ostracism that has led to depression and consequently hopelessness, which made the person feel that the only way out was suicide,” he said.

He also cited religion as a strong factor that could lead to suicide. Using the Guyana tragedy and Boko Haram Islamist sect as examples, he said: “Religion is another reason people commit suicide, especially when they are given command by their leaders to do so. For instance, the Guyana tragedy, which happened when Jim Jones led his congregation of about 900 people to commit suicide, is a good example of religious suicide. He told them that they would go to heaven when they died, as the world was not worthy for them to live in. It is the same thing with the Boko Haram suicide bombers. They are also brainwashed to believe that they would go to heaven, where they would be married to virgins if they killed themselves fighting religious war.”

Dr. Okonkwo also traced suicide to genes, when he said: “It is also known that suicide may be more common in some tribes or there may be some biological link. But, that link may also be associated with mental illness because mental illness also has biological or genetic link. People who are prone to depression, and as a result, have committed suicide in the past may pass the same trait down to the next generation. In order words, if somebody had committed suicide in a particular family due to depression, there is every tendency that a descendant of that family in future generation could suffer depression and commit suicide. So, it seems to have little genetic implication just like it is in mental illness.”

He also looked at the role of urbanization in suicide. He believes that the western life styles occasioned by urbanization, has broken down the traditional social support, thereby leaving the frustrated with no choice but suicide, especially when the individual concerned does not want to go into crime.

He, therefore, submitted that following the economic hardship, exacerbated by the ravaging COVI-19 pandemic, coupled with the religious and political factors as earlier stated, there is every possibility that more people would commit suicide.

He argued that the trend could only be reversed if government takes urgent and drastic measures to alleviate people’s suffering. “Government can achieve this by providing social security safety nets and improving the economy through massive job creation and other measures,” he submitted.

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