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The recent spate of suicide in the country is an alarming trend that calls for serious societal concern. Society ought to introspect itself and ask thought provoking questions as to why suicide seems to be on the ascendency within the first quarter of 2017. What has gone wrong and what role can society play to help prevent suicide. How would society identify someone having a suicidal thought and what help can people offer to such people.

This is not the first time Ghana is recording suicide cases but the current episode seems unprecedented and Ghana is will be doomed if it continuous in this path without adequate preventive measures put in place to curtail the unfortunate situation.

Key Facts About Suicide

  1. Close to 800, 000 people die due to suicide every year.
  1. For every suicide there are many more people who attempt suicide every year.
  1. A prior suicide attempt is the single most important risk factor for suicide in the general population.
  1. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15–29-year-olds.
  1. 78% of global suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries.
  1. Ingestion of pesticide, hanging and firearms are among the most common methods of suicide globally.

Source – WHO

 

What is Suicide?

Suicide is the act of deliberately ending one’s life. People who commit suicide do not really want to die. They want to escape from a painful situation. They are being weighed down by overwhelming psychosocial factors that they are unable control. Ending their lives becomes the only option they think will relieve them from such problems as pains, frustrations, debilitating illnesses, economic hardships and many other factors. The World Health Organisation estimates that approximately 1 million people commit suicide each year.

People who commit suicide or have suicidal thoughts have the feeling of hopelessness, dejection and think life is worthless. They feel no help can ever come their way to solve their problems and ending their lives is the only option for them to employ. It must however be noted that mental illnesses account for 95% of all suicide cases. These include; Depression, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Alcohol use Disorder etc.

Stigma on mental illness and societal rejection of persons suffering from mental illness is a contributing factor of suicide. Persons treated of mental illness and are able to function well in society are being despised for the mere fact that they have once suffered mental illness before. Society stigmatises such people even if they can offer meaningful contributions to their community despite having suffered mental illness before. Instead of society measuring these people by their capabilities, they rather stigmatise them. The stigma, the rejection and lack of ‘humane treatment’ of persons living with mental illness make them think they are worthless. This attitude of society towards the mentally ill and the deprived makes them feel hopeless in life and they think suicide becomes an option to take away their pains.

Some of the methods used in committing suicide include, hanging by rope, drinking poison, electrocution, self-mutilation with sharp object, fallen from a height, using guns etc.

Why do People Commit Suicide

For some people life is sweet. However, life can be very tormenting at times. People go through a lot of physical and psychological pain that seem to have no end in sight. These psychosocial problems become unbearable to some people over a period of time. They feel alone and helpless and may want to end their life to escape the pain and feeling they are experiencing.

Below are some of the reasons why people commit suicide:

  1. Mental illness (about 95% of all suicide cases) such as Depression, Schizophrenia, Alcohol or drug use Disorder and Bipolar Disorder
  2. Death of loved one – relative or friend
  3. Failure in examination and failure to achieve set goals in life following hopelessness
  4. Financial problems and economic hardships
  5. Relationship break-ups and marital problems
  6. Physical, emotional and sexual abuse
  7. Societal rejection and dejection
  8. Chronic pain and illness

Who Is At Risk Of Suicide?

Since mental illness constitutes about 95% of all suicide cases, mental patients are at risk of suicide, especially those suffering from depression. Everyone is at risk of suicide depending on individual’s level of response to life stresses such as financial problems and losses.

People may have suicidal behaviour when they experience devastating events such as earthquake, tsunami, conflicts and wars, physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Suicide rate is also high among prisoners, refugees, migrants, etc. People who have attempted suicide before have a higher risk of suicide.

Possible Signs Someone Might Be Thinking Of Suicide

Most people with suicidal thinking communicate their intentions in one way or the other through written letters, verbal pronouncement, or gestures. These warning signs of suicide should not be taken lightly.

Warning Signs Of Suicide Include:

  1. Previous suicide attempts
  2. Sudden withdrawal from relatives and people
  3. Feeling depressed and loss of hope
  4. Refusing food
  5. Saying goodbye to people when they are not travelling and giving away their belongings
  6. Loss of interest in his or her environment they previously enjoyed
  7. Neglecting their personal hygiene
  8. Saying things like life is not worth living or it better to die than living
  9. Engaging in self-destructive or risky behaviour
  10. Indiscriminate and increased use of alcohol and other drugs
  11. Feeling worthless
  12. Talking about suicide or writing notes about suicide
  13. Seeking access to something, they can us to kill themselves such as gun, knife, rope or poison

Preventing Suicide

Suicide is preventable. Society has a collective responsibility in preventing suicide. From the parents and guardians at home, the Pastors and Imams at religious homes, counsellors, friends and relations, to the teacher in the classroom, all has a role to play. People ought to be more alert to identify clues and communication of someone who may be thinking of suicide. There should be awareness creation on suicide. They should also be a national policy on suicide.

People should be encouraged to seek counselling when confronted with overwhelming psychological pressure and stress. Adequate resting and regular training should also be encouraged to reduce stress.

Other measures to prevent suicide on people who may be having suicidal thoughts include:

  1. Follow up care for people with previous history of suicide attempt
  2. Reducing access to tools and items they can use to kill themselves
  3. Early identification of persons with mental disorder and treatment
  4. Showing love and compassion to relatives in crises
  5. Asking them directly what they are thinking about and your willingness to help them overcome their challenges.
  6. Persons with suicidal thoughts should not be left alone
  7. Tell them they are not alone in such situations and that there is hope for a better tomorrow despite their current situations.

Share your problem with someone you trust if you are thinking of suicide. Remember you are not alone facing that problem. Seek professional advice if you are experiencing psychological and mental problems.


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The Mental Health Authority (MHA) has observed with great concern and disquiet, the increasing spate of youth and student suicides that are being reported in the media and have become the main issues of discussion across media houses in the nation.
The MHA commiserates with the families of the persons who have been let down by society and have allegedly fallen victim to suicide. We share in their grief, and pray that the nation faces no such tumultuous occurrences again.
The Authority finds the trend disturbing and considers it a failure of the society to support its youth by ensuring that efficient and accessible support systems are in place to help build the mental fortitude of the youth and students in particular in their times of weakness and susceptibility. Another disturbing trend is that normally, though more females attempt suicide than males, while more males do succeed, what we are seeing of late is that more females than males are completing suicide, and they use lethal methods like hanging and throwing themselves down from a height. There is the need to stem the tide.
Suicide has of late become the most common cause of death among students in Ghana’s tertiary institutions and the incidence is rising, particularly amongst female students. For most students and young people who attempt suicide, they are actually crying for help, to end some unbearable feelings or a situation that seems intolerable. Young people easily develop suicidal thoughts when they feel trapped, confused, hopeless, helpless and distressed, and are desperate to escape from their suffering rather than actually wanting to die. Unfortunately, the desire to escape from the suffering in order to avoid shame and disgrace is often stronger than the any considerations of its outcome, and to their young minds, suicide often feels like the only way out, as all coping mechanisms at that time have broken down.
We are not oblivious of the fact that most institutions of higher education have guidance and counselling centres where students go to resolve problems and challenges. It is obvious, however, that these centres have not been effective or adequate in numbers. Students may also not be patronising them on account of stigma.
For most students, suicide will follow a period of depression while for others it is an impulsive act which may be triggered by a traumatic experience. Experiences such as loneliness, feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness, depression, being jilted, failure to achieve academic goals, high levels of stress and a history of mental or physical illness may drive a student to attempt or commit suicide.
It is important that as a society, we pay particular attention to young people because those who attempt suicide are more likely to finally die by their own hands, whether by intent or accident.
On a daily basis, young people, particularly students in tertiary institutions are likely to feel distressed, aggrieved or depressed in response to the difficulties, disappointments and stresses that they encounter in the course of their daily lives. Persons with a history of trauma, hurts or disappointments that have gone unnoticed are likely to respond by making a suicide attempt. Young people are more likely to be overwhelmed by stressful life events.
The MHA believes that tackling the issue of suicide among the youth should be holistically looked at as a national agenda. Guidance and Counselling centres should not only be on campuses, but should be spread throughout the nation such that the youth and especially students will be able to visit such facilities at locations of their choice. Young people should be able to call up and meet with their counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists when they have problems to discuss with them.
It is about time we looked out for each other as a society, particularly our youth. It may not be easy to conclude that a student is suicidal, but if you notice that a student suddenly becomes a lot more reserved than they usually are, it should raise a red flag, and you may be doing some good service to the person if you contact the Counselling Service in their school or call the Mental Health Authority on 0206814666/ 0503444793 for a session with an expert.
The MHA calls on our lawmakers to decriminalize attempted suicide in the statutes of Ghana if the fight against suicide is to be won. Attempted suicide is not a criminal issue. Neither is it a moral issue or spiritual problem. It is simply a cry for help to resolve psychosocial issues and therefore more appropriately is a medical problem. Decriminalizing attempted suicide will give the youth and people who have suicidal thoughts an opportunity to talk about what they feel without having to look over their shoulders or having to think they will be prosecuted should they talk about their suicide tendencies.
We also call upon the law makers to pass the legislative instrument to the Mental Health Act, 2012 (Act 846) to enable the Mental Health Authority to institute its programmes of massive public education and mental health promotion. Let this unfortunate situation galvanize us to come together as a nation to fight the canker.

Dr. Akwasi Osei
Chief Executive
Mental Health Authority
Contact:0509914046/ 0206814666

Issued in Accra on this day, the 13th of March, 2017.


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