According to Edwin Shneidman, an American Clinical Psychologist, Suicidologist and Thanatologist (born May 13, 1918 and died on May 15, 2009), “suicide is not necessarily the desire to die but is rather a means to ending the psychological pain”. He explained the psychological pain to mean psyache, a term he said meant the “hurt of pain, anguish, soreness, and aching psychological pain of the mind”. He further said that this means “the pain of shame, or guilt, or humiliation, or loneliness, or fear, or angst, or dread of growing old”. Shneidman, together with Norman Faberow and Robert Litman founded the Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Center in 1958, where they researched on suicide and developed a crisis center and treatments to prevent deaths occasioned by suicide. In 1968, Shneidman founded the American Association of Suicidology. He was also the Head of United State’s Journal for Suicide Studies called Suicide and Life Threatening Behaviour.
Since he gave his theory on suicide and threatening behavior, there have been several other layers of work on the same subject, with the researchers reinforcing what he had said. They agree that suicide is caused by certain factors, ranging from depression and mental illness – schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, eating disorder, anorexia and bulimia; traumatic stress resulting from early childhood sexual abuse, rape, physical abuse, or war trauma; substance abuse and impulsivity such as in drugs and alcohol abuse; loss or fear of loss as in financial loss or financial problems, losing a job or being unemployed and unable to find a sufficient source of steady income, losing social position, losing your living situation due to financial reasons or the ending of a relationship, academic failure, losing social or family acceptance due to revealing your sexual orientation, bullying, shaming, or humiliation, including cyberbullying, being arrested or imprisoned, et cetera.
When a person believes that no hope is left for him and that no action could be taken to change his situation, it could become life threatening and lead to suicide. A person who suffers from a chronic ailment might believe that no cure is available for him after all and that the best action was to save himself further pain and his family further inconveniences by taking his life.
Suicide is not a new phenomenon. The Holy Bible tells a fascinating story about how Judas Iscariot, the disciple that eventually sold Jesus Christ to his enemies to be crucified, hung himself upon a tree. The World Health Organization (WHO) report shows that suicide is rather a global phenomenon, cutting across all social strata. According to its 2016 report, about one person in 5,000 – 15,000 dies by suicide every year, that is, 1.4% of all deaths, with a reported global rate of 10.7 per 100,000 population in 2015. Providing insight into suicide behaviours all over the world, the WHO report added that “In Western countries male and female rates of suicidal behaviors differ at a greater degree compared to those in the rest of the world. Around 20% of global suicides are due to self-poisoning, most of which occur in rural agricultural areas in low- and middle-income countries consisting in about 80% world population. Some of these pesticides are forbidden by United Nations conventions”.
According to the report, in high-income countries consisting of the remaining 20% world population, the most common methods of suicide are the use firearms, hanging and self-poisoning. It said that Europe has the highest suicide rate in the entire world, while the Eastern Mediterranean has the least. In 2016, WHO rated Nigeria the 56th country in its suicide rating, with 15,000 suicides per 100,000 deaths. This put Nigeria on 17.3% globally. South Korea tops the list with 24,000 suicides per 100,000 deaths, followed by Russia with 18,000 suicides per 100,000 deaths.
In a world ravaged by persistent economic hardship, dwindling value system, etc, that people will attempt to, and actually take their lives, is not news. In Nigeria, the past few weeks have been terrible with the media space, especially the social media, inundated with heart rendering stories of people killing themselves. Shockingly, Nigerian youths have been victims of this dastardly act. Granted that suicide is not the only cause of death globally, it attracts much attention because it is a violent death. Unlike accidents that are considered violent death, suicidal acts are self-inflicted. Apart from suicides, in Nigeria sickness accounts for 26% of deaths, motor accident (16%), poverty and malnutrition (31%) while natural death is 6%. But whenever suicide occurs it is considered one death too many.
Suicide is not a small matter anywhere in the world. It takes more to kill oneself than to even kill another person. Anyone who thinks of killing himself is capable of committing mass murder. In traditional Igbo society, suicide is considered a taboo. Anyone who commits suicide has sinned against God his creator. He has sinned against the gods of the land, against the community and his family. He sinned against himself too. No other crime is like suicide. The Igbo people do not look at suicide cases and laugh over it. First, people are forbidden from touching the dead body of a suicide victim. If the person hanged himself, only a strong native doctor will untie and bring it down. A suicide dead body is never given a decent burial. It is not even buried in the family compound. It is buried in an evil forest and is followed by the cleansing of the land. This is usually very expensive ritual.
Many people are quick to blame the bad economy of the country for the rise in suicide cases, especially among the youths. But looking at the age brackets and lifestyle of most of the people who killed themselves recently, one might begin to raise some questions. For example, what has the economy got to do with the suicide of the 21 years old student of the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) who was doing well in school, not graduated yet and not looking for job? A student of English and Literary Studies in UNN, Chukwuemeka Akachi hailed from Eha Community in Nsukka Local Government Area of Enugu State. He was a budding poet. He took his life by consuming two bottles of “sniper” insecticide in an uncompleted building.
It would seem that the 21 years old and 400 level student gave indications he would do the unthinkable. He was reported to have called his friends on the phone shortly after he had done it and alerted them that he had done the deed. They found his body in the uncompleted building with a suicide note. Moreover, in his previous post on Facebook, Akachi gave the indication that he preferred to end it all, citing mental health as reason. “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”, he said.
Before we lost Akachi in his own hands, there was report of a young man who took his life because of a failed relationship with a young lady. The young and handsome man was said to be a devoted Christian and a church worker, a chorister and drummer. As bad as the Nigerian economy has been, many people cannot but wonder how the bad economy could be blamed for a young girl who killed herself because her boyfriend abandoned her. How could someone blame the bad economy for a young man who was doing well for himself, a church worker, chorister or drummer, who took his life? This drummer, reports say, was about to wed his heartthrob but he lost her and he felt it was high time he ended the drama, with his life.
Of all the recent suicide cases in Nigeria, perhaps the most controversial is that of a young and handsome pastor, a music minister, Michael Arowosaiye, with the Shepherd House Church located in Apo area of Abuja. He was reported to have committed suicide on Tuesday, May 14, 2019, by hanging himself with his belt. Initial reports had claimed that Michael was a pastor with the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), but the church later issued a disclaimer that the pastor, popularly called Pator Tehil, “was only invited to minister at a RCCG programme, which is a common practice within the Christian family to invite music ministers across denominations and help push their musical careers and creating platforms for expressions for their gifts”.
The church disclosed that Michael was the music director of Choir 2 in Shepherds House and that he had been living in a house owned by a member of his church who had sold his house. It was also learnt that the pastor was supposed to get married recently, but the wedding was cancelled after the wedding invitation cards had been shared. The cancellation followed allegation that another girl in the church choir claimed that the pastor also proposed to her. The church claimed that “Complications from the cancelation of the wedding, coupled with his accommodation issue possibly led to chains of events that led him to committing suicide”. Unconfirmed sources had also revealed that the second girl with whom the pastor was in love and promised marriage was circulating the pastor’s nude videos and pictures on the social media, especially to the members of his church.
Last week, a woman said to be a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Umuegbu Agwa in Oguta Local Government Area of Imo State took her life. Family sources said that the widow took herself because all her sons whom she labored to train since their father died have all gone into criminal activities. Frustrated with the situation she concluded that suicide was the best option.
Despite our huge population, we cannot allow people whose future hold great prospects, or anyone for that matter, see any attraction in suicide. It is never a good way to die. Once someone is born, he has a date with Grim Reaper. In spite of this, people all over the world show respect for life. No culture or religion holds any promise to one taking his life. This is the reason the society in differs cultures imposes all kinds of taboos on the act of suicide. It is never to be contemplated. No matter what the situation is, we are often reminded that life itself is sweet, and we take to heart the age long sayings that assure us that tomorrow is greater.
The Holy Bible enjoins us not to worry about tomorrow. “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” Matthew 6:34. This Biblical aphorism appears in the Sermon on the Mount, and it implies that each day contains an ample burden of evils and suffering, with the embedded lesson that we should avoid adding to them or escalating them. This Biblical passage is variously translated to mean also that “the suffering of the (present) hour is enough for it”. It has further alternative translations such as “Each day has enough trouble of its own” (New American Standard), and “There is no need to add to the troubles each day brings” (Today’s English Version). Epicurean writers such as Anacreon, Greek philosopher and lyric poet, and Quintus Horatius Flaccus, otherwise popularly called Horace, a Roman lyric poet, also advise: “quid sit futurum cras, fuge quaerere”, meaning, “Avoid asking what the future would bring”.
Relevant institutions of the government should be activated to live up to the reasons they were set up in the first place. The National Orientation Agency (NOA), for instance, should sit up. Faced with economic uncertainties in the country, coupled with social pressures, there is need for aggressive orientation or enlightenment programmes to make the people to always see the reason to give life another chance. Counseling services should be made available to the public. In schools, churches and hospitals, people should get access to counseling services. This will give them the opportunity to talk to someone about their challenges and help solve the problem of depression. The media should also be wary of how it feeds the society with obscene wealth and thereby remolding the values of the society, creating new role models and setting new standards.
As a people we must do something to arrest this drift. We need to review our values and standards. All over the country, our value system has fallen abysmally. A man is no longer measured by the strength of his character and the volume of his learning. A man is now measured by the depth of his pocket and how freely he doles out money from his deep pocket. People are now measured by the type and number of cars they drive, the kind of clothes they wear and the kind of mansion they live in. You become a role model once you have a fat bank account or drive expensive cars. And since these have become the measuring stick, a young man considers his life worthless right from the time he finishes secondary school, if he does not have money. To avert this ugly situation and to force himself into reckoning in the society, he wants to get rich by all means necessary. Suicide becomes a beautiful attraction if for any reason he fails to meet his own expectations, or he thinks he is being wrongly judged by his inability to meet up.
Moreover, we should be mindful of the friends we keep. Growing up in our rural community, elders who did not know us quickly identified our families by our manners. Today, the value system has been eroded. We should at all times try to keep our family values and resist the temptation to borrow the values of our dear friends, especially when those values hold no good for us and our family. This way we will be able to benchmark not only our appetites but our expectations from life. Patience is one of the values to imbibe. It pays to be patient because it is said that a patient dog eats the fattest bone. Believing that tomorrow is pregnant, Igbo enjoin one another to have faith in tomorrow and that their life is not judged by the events of today. They believe tomorrow comes with its fresh hopes and opportunities.
Collins Ughalaa could be reached via email: email@example.com, or via telephone: 07066222944.