Poverty, depression and rising cases of suicide in Nigeria.

Depression, which is a medical condition that makes a person to be unhappy and anxious and often prevents the person from living normal life, can be suffered by anybody at any time due to overwhelming circumstances of existence. A visit to a psychologist or psychiatrist could just be what to do to nip the problem in the bud, especially if it is mild and moderate, but the stigma of being described as a ‘mad’ person is one of the reasons victims of depression do not want to see a psychologist or psychiatrist. Their first line of action when they have mood disorder is to look for who is responsible and they run to spiritual places seeking for help. The more time they spend not getting treated, the situation gets worse and in most cases, they commit suicide, CHIJIOKE IREMEKA writes:

Recently, the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo said Nigerian youths must be protected from despair, disillusionment and hopelessness because they represent the most active and valuable section of the nation’s population, economically and socially.

In his keynote address at the inaugural retreat and meeting of members of the newly inaugurated board of the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) in Benin City, Edo State capital, Keyamo described Nigerian youths as energetic, innovative and desirous of legitimate and decent job opportunities as well as environment for businesses to thrive.

The senior lawyer, who is the chairman of the board of NDE and the supervising minister of the agency, also declared that the right of Nigerian youths, women and other vulnerable groups to decent job opportunities, self-reliance and self actualisation was non-negotiable in the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.

According to him, the current population of Nigeria is about 215, 325, 205, based on projection of the United Nations data, and by the projection of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), 60 per cent of the total population is between 15 and 35 years.
“Without decent job opportunities or conducive clime by the youths to operate productive ventures, frustration, disillusionment, hate, anger and even vengeance set in. The worst is that some unpatriotic persons cash in on the predicament and frustration among the youths to recruit them as ready tools for kidnapping, terrorism, political thuggery and other unwholesome activities that are inimical to our thriving democracy and development as a nation. We have a task to strengthen the directorate as an agency that will tackle the menace head on,” Keyamo said.

The minister also reiterated that President Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) government were desirous of lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty, with NDE to be made impactful on delivering the laudable national quest.

Despite these claims and expressions, many Nigerians, especially the youths are currently not being protected from despair, disillusionment and hopelessness, as about over 3.1per cent of the Nigerian population are sliding into depression daily, while others are committing suicide.

According to psychiatrists, depression is a major co-efficient of suicide, yet many people never felt that it is a serious mental health issue that should be given concerted attention to save the lives of Nigerians being ravaged by the twin evils of depression and suicide.

Depression patients, experts said, need help and require the services of psychologists or psychiatrists. They lament that due to stigma attached to people with depression who are seeking services of psychologists or psychiatrists in Nigeria, many citizens who need evaluation of their mental health shy away from these professional services thereby worsening the already precarious situation.

Experts believe that untreated emotional wounds is one of the reasons for the spike in cases of young people committing suicide in the country today, the latest case being that of a young man who jumped down from the top of a telecommunication mast.
The Nigerian Postgraduate Medical Journal described depression as a major public health problem with a prevalence of 4.4 per cent in the global population, and 5.4 per cent in the African region and affects about 322 million people globally.

The publication noted that depression, like in other regions of the world, is more common among females (5.9 per cent) compared to males (4.9 per cent) in Africa. The prevalence of depression in Nigeria is estimated at 3.1 per cent while the estimated incidence increased worldwide by 49.86 per cent from 172 million in 1990 to 258 million in 2017. There is a notable increase in Western sub-Saharan Africa by 124.42 per cent.

Unfortunately, the recent happenings in Nigeria is gradually sliding many citizens, especially youth, into depression, leading to the rising cases of suicide, suicidal tendencies and suicide attempts among Nigerians across board.

“Living in Nigeria has become a dangerous venture as the present Nigeria has a number of issues to contend with. Fuel scarcity is driving people insane and the pump price is now fixed at N350 per litre. Of course, the black market, which is not available, sells at N400 and N450 per litre depending on the location. The few ones selling at N185 per litre witness massive queues as masses spend hours to get fuel. Nigerians now exchange naira for naira at exorbitant prices as though one is exchanging dollar for naira,” Bashirun Adebowale, a resident of Lagos said.

The situation is becoming very tense that some people, both males and females, are now stripping themselves naked in banks to protest against inability to collect their hard earned money saved in the banks. Those who have emergency could not have access to cash to take care of their bills and needs. Those who could not cope with the crisis are sliding into depression and committing suicide.

Joseph Esolaonu, who had suffered depression, said: “Having depression is like being scared and tired at the same time. It’s the fear of failure and no urge to be productive. It’s like wanting to have friends but hating to socialize. It is like wanting to be alone but not wanting to be lonely. It is feeling everything at once then feeling paralysingly deadened. You look happy but you do not feel happiness. This is what the moment of depression thought me; that’s what depression does in one’s life.”

Esolaonu, who lived all his childhood life under a single parent, recalled: “My father left us, myself and my siblings to our mother, who tried her best to train us to be responsible children. Coming from this background of single parent, struggling for survival became very important, as my elder sister was the only one who finished polytechnic among eight of us. Finishing my Junior Secondary School Examination (JSSE), my elder sister’s husband came and picked me to stay with them in Lagos.

“After one or two years of staying with them, misunderstanding crept in and there was nothing I did that she liked. Every moment she would always say to me, ‘at your age’ this, ‘at your age’ that. Hearing those words, I started asking myself what should I do to measure up with my mates? Of a truth, I wasn’t young compared to my level of education and other things. The thoughts of that depressed me.

“Imagine at 22, I was still in secondary school, and I was seeing others at that same age finishing tertiary institution. It was really eating me up at the time but I had no one to talk to. I felt happy in front of friends but inside of me, I was in a sad mood because my age was like a shadow.”

“Many thoughts were always coming to my mind. Sometimes I would say that at this age, I could not boast of a tangible thing that I have achieved. My mother was there in the village and didn’t have enough to do anything. All these and many others continued running into my mind and making me to think that this life doesn’t worth living, especially when I look at everything around me.

“One of the most serious thoughts that came to my mind was to go for sniper (insecticide) or anything that could help me end the whole thing (suicide). I couldn’t help the thought as it continued running within me because the atmosphere in which I was in at the moments didn’t permit me to speak up on what was happening to me. But God was able to prevent me from carrying out the thoughts of my mind (suicide). God continued driving such thought away from me anytime it came.”

In a recent interview granted by a popular actress and model, Lilian Afegbai, the winner of the African Magic Viewers’ Choice Award (AMVCA), she shared her story on how she went into depression.

“The movie I won the AMVCA award with is a challenging movie. It led me into depression. I was depressed for months. People wouldn’t understand what I went through. It was hard. Aside the fact that I never expected that award, I know what I went through. I was bullied during the movie production. Some people felt I was not there and couldn’t make it but nobody knew what I was going through.
“I think people need to start paying attention to this depression. Some of us take it for granted. We need to look out for one another. At the time when I said I was depressed, I had a lot of money. Money is not the cure for depression. You can be very rich and still be depressed.

“People need to pay attention to people around them. We need to start from you and I. Check up on your siblings and your neighbours. When you see someone behaving in a certain way, ask questions. It might seem that the person has his or her life put together, but it might shock you that they don’t,” Afegbai said.

On the occasion of the 2022 World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD), the World Health Organisation (WHO) said an estimated 703, 000 people commit suicide yearly all over the world, and that in every suicide case, there are many more people who attempt suicide.

“A prior suicide attempt is the single most important risk factor for suicide in the general population. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15 to 29 year-olds. Also, 77 per cent of global suicides occur in low-and middle-income countries. Ingestion of pesticide, hanging and firearms are among the most common methods of suicide globally. Every 45 seconds, someone dies of suicide around the world. For each suicide, approximately 135 people suffer intense grief, resulting in 108 million people annually who are profoundly impacted by suicidal behaviours.”

On several occasions, stakeholders in health have tasked government to create more psychiatric centres to help manage the cases of mental disorder that come up daily. Psychologists are asking government to work towards improving the standard of living of the masses, stressing that if the economy is good and there is a robust and conducive atmosphere for citizens to grow their businesses, they will be able to deal with other minor basic problems.

“We all know that poverty is one of the predictors of mental health issues. When people do not know where their next meal is coming from, they can become depressed. This is why crime rate and cases of drug abuse have gone up. Life in Nigeria, I don’t know if it is still worth living. Things have become unbearable for the citizens. The first solution is if government can improve the standard of living of Nigerians. If they can come up with policies that will enable people have a sense of belonging. Knowing that you can work and get returns for your money, people will not fall into a state of despair,” a stakeholder said.

On what needs to be done to stop depression from getting to the stage of suicide, a clinical psychologist with Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, Lagos, Dr. Ndubuisi Emeka Umeh, said: “As simple as it may sound, asking people to take note of how their mood changes and seeking help when necessary is very important. What I am canvassing is for people to know when they are not just feeling well, to take note of when their mood is changing. They may not be meeting any diagnosis at that point but the person should quickly go to where they can get help.

“The first line of treatment for depression, especially mild to moderate level of depression, is psychotherapy so that such a person can be talked out of it. Anybody can go into depression at any time because of the overwhelming circumstances around our existence currently but if you have someone who is well trained to handle such cases, you nip it in the bud before it becomes an issue.”
Umeh blamed ignorance and stigma of being called ‘mad’ as some of the reasons people do not want to see a psychologist. “And so their first line of action when they have mood disorder is to look for who is responsible for their misdeed or they run into churches and other spiritual places seeking for help. The more time they spend not getting treated, the situation gets worse.”

The Bishop of Nike Diocese (Anglican Communion), Enugu State, Rt. Revd (Dr.) Christian Onyeka Onyia, said Nigerians were living in hopeless situation following lip service being paid by the Federal Government to ravaging issues of insecurity and unemployment.

Onyia, who made the comment during the third session of the fifth Synod of the diocese held at St. Peter’s Church, Thinker’s Corner, Enugu, said since independence, Nigeria had never faced the current level of polarisation and unmitigated security crisis.

“It is particularly troubling that this is taking place under the leadership of a retired military general. Sadly, it seems that the President and the governors have lost control of the situation. No part of the country is spared from insecurity, ranging from terrorism, extremism, insurgencies, Jihadism, kidnapping for ransom to extra-judicial execution of citizens by the state actors.

“The activities of Boko Haram and Fulani extremists appear to be a decoy to achieve other pre-determined missions. Nigeria has also witnessed unprecedented endemic assassinations, looting of communities and abduction by Fulani extremists posing as herdsmen.

“The people and communities now live in fear. Travelling in Nigerian routes is worse than being on war front. People’s fears are aggravated by their perception of government’s failure to act in the face of the threats,” the cleric lamented.

He said to meet the challenges of food insecurity, Nigeria needed to focus on how to reduce post-harvest losses and improve food processing and preservation.
“To prevent, mitigate and reconcile the looming crisis, Nigeria needs a policy to leverage its population for national development. Investments should be made in agriculture, not the current subsistence farming, but modern agriculture that must include post-harvest storage, utilisation and management of agricultural produce.”

Onyia noted that the church as a religious and social organisation guided by spiritual, ethical and social principles contained in the fundamental teachings and doctrine of the Christian faith, would play a vital role in stimulating and influencing social change and in the improvement of the value system of society.

The World Health Organisation targets 2030 to achieve a reduction of the global suicide rate by one third. Sequel to this, the global body has launched an intervention known as ‘Live Life’. The successful implementation and scale-up of Live Life interventions relies on six crosscutting foundational pillars – Situation analysis; Multisectoral collaboration; Awareness-raising and advocacy; Capacity-building; Financing as well as Surveillance, monitoring and evaluation.

WHO said: “In planning and implementation of suicide prevention activities, we must understand the profile of suicide and suicide prevention. Analysis can be done nationally or regionally in consultation with policy makers, epidemiologists, persons with live experience and service providers.
“Suicide prevention takes leadership and political will. All sectors of society must work together. Alongside health and mental health, there are critical roles for agriculture, education, social welfare and judicial systems, businesses, communities, civil society, and the media.
“A strong health system and universal health coverage are fundamental to improved mental health and suicide prevention as well as mobilisation and coordination of non-health sectors and the creation of strategic partnerships.
“To ensure suicide prevention remains a priority, awareness raising activities that draw people’s attention to suicide as a serious public health issue are needed. Advocacy aims to bring about changes such as decriminalisation or a national suicide prevention strategy. Initiatives should have a clear focus and a call to action.”

The global health organisation noted that enhanced training around suicide and suicide prevention both inside and outside the health sector would be critical in building capacity to tackle the challenge. The training may be directed at health workers, emergency service staff, teachers, youth workers and others such as religious leaders and community workers.

According to WHO, requests for funds should focus on development and implementation of policies, strategies and plans as well as surveillance and provision of services.
“Key data, including rates and trends in suicides and self-harm, can help guide prevention activities. Data sources such as civil registration and vital statistics, health and police records, verbal autopsies and nationally representative population-based surveys are crucial sources of information.”

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