Experts urge more awareness on mental illness

Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba
Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba
Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba
Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba

By Akeem Abas

The Head, Clinical Psychology Department, Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Lagos State, Dr Tayo Ajirotutu, on Wednesday called for more awareness on mental illness in Nigeria.

Ajirotutu made the call, as the lead presenter, at the inaugural virtual meeting on suicide, organised by the ‘Suicide Is No Solution’ (SIN), a Non-Governmental Organisation, in Ibadan.

The theme of the meeting is “Talking Suicide 1.0: Causes, Signs and Prevention”.

Ajirotutu said that death by suicide had been on for decades and generations but that it had become a serious issue in Nigeria in the past four years.

He said that the issue skyrocketed during this COVID- 19 pandemics, adding that there was the need to increase the education and enlightenment tempo on suicide amongst Nigerian citizens.

Ajirotutu said that individuals, with suicidal tendencies and signs, must be referred to experts.

He noted that religious organisations and schools should train counsellors on the required skills to counsel people with depression.

“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 as well as 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,’’ the psychologist said.

While commending the SINS’ initiative, Ajirotutu warned that the issue of suicide could not be confidential as family members and mental health experts must be involved.

“If you want to kill yourself, identify why you want to and look for another way out rather than taking your own life.’’

Also speaking, Dr Stella Bassey-Okoronkwo, a US-based Psychiatrist, said that mental health awareness was one thing Nigeria must go all out to make more people know about it.

Bassey-Okoronkwo said that mental illness existed and people with such must be given the right counselling and recommendation.

“People struggling with depression, drug abuse, alcohol use disorders and anxiety have a higher incidence of contemplating suicide in the U.S.

“We lose over 800,000 people yearly globally to suicide and we lose a lot more during late spring and early summers in the U.S.,’’ she said.

Bassey-Okoronkwo, who is Medical Director, Centre for Emotional Health, Virginia, the U.S., listed the warning signs to look out for in persons attempting suicide.

Such signs are the persons’ inability to express their feelings, disrespectful, more destructive, withdrawal from family, drinking excessively, aggressive, low energy and being more impulsive and reckless.

The psychiatrist advised that when any of the warning signs is noticed, such a person must be referred for counselling.

Also, Mrs Funso Adegbola, a lawyer and founder, The Vale College, Ibadan advocated for a repeal of the section of the law that stipulates prosecution for attempted suicide.

She called on psychiatrists association, health professionals, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and interest groups to join hands in ensuring the law was repealed.

Adegbola said that individuals, who attempted suicide, should go for mental rehabilitation and not prison.

She also suggested that the shortage of psychiatrists in Nigeria should also be addressed.

While contributing, Mrs Idy Toye-Arulogun, SINS’ Project Lead, said the meeting aimed at reducing suicide to the barest minimum by increasing awareness level and a better understanding of suicide amongst Nigerians.

Toye-Arulogun said that the meeting had helped to educate SINS’ volunteers and people on the causes, signs, and prevention of suicide.

Mrs Ajoke Okonu, who contemplated suicide at 16, said she fought the thoughts since she was four-years-old, but that she did not commit the crime for the love of her mother.

“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,’’ she said.

Mrs Ibiyemi Faturoti, the co-Founder, LePhare Consultants, urged anyone contemplating suicide to know that there was someone out there who cares and ready to help.

Faturoti said that suicide should not be considered as an option during life’s struggles.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the discussants agreed that the government, at all levels, should ensure that schools have at least one psychologist on their staff list.

They added that the staff should be a counsellor and mental health practitioner.

They also agreed that religious bodies should create a mental health unit, manned by mental health experts at their religious centres to reduce the rate of suicide in the country.

The discussants said that the law, punishing individuals who attempted suicide should be reviewed.

They said that such individuals rather needed care and support, and not prosecution.

They also said that there should be adequate training for counsellors in schools and religious organisations to manage youths, especially those with signs of depression that could lead to suicide.