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Staying alive in a suicidal world [Article]

It was one Saturday afternoon, as I was relaxing on my bed and decided to follow some discussions on a High School Group chat on my phone. I got so engrossed in the discussion on the recent suicide committed by some youth in this past few weeks being passionately discussed.

As much as many members were much worried, and felt how vulnerable members of their families and colleagues were, one thing I observed was their attempt to understand the aetiology of the “demon”, because the lack of understanding in itself poses a threat to them  as future leaders.

Over 800,000 people die through suicide every year, and there are many more who attempt suicide globally. Hence, many millions of people are affected or experience suicide bereavement every year. Suicide occurs throughout the lifespan and is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds globally according to the world health organization (WHO).

It may come as a surprise to you, but by the end of today, five or more people in Ghana would have taken their own lives according to information from the Ghana Health Service. The worst part of it is that, some of these persons may take the life of other people (Homicide) before taking theirs.

Recently, two students from the country’s prestigious universities were reported to have committed suicide.  The act of suicide may still occur in our universities and among individuals as committing suicide in Ghana or attempting to commit suicide in Ghana is still a criminal act according to Section 57 Clause 2 of the 1960 Criminal Code.

However, although some Civil Society Organisations are calling for the decriminalization of suicide so that persons who have the intention to commit or are contemplating the act can come forward for help, the law still exists.

The lack of education of the public on some abnormal disorders such as Mood Disorders, Psychotic Disorders, Personality Disorders, Eating Disorders Developmental Disorders, Behavioural Disorders, Addictions, Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders Trauma and Stress-Related Disorders which may be characterized by suicidal tendencies, can be the cause of this unfortunate situation.

In recent times, academic work load has shown to be a major cause of stress among students in the tertiary levels. Many students as a result of lack of time management have been vulnerable to meeting deadlines in submitting their school assignment.

This may therefore cause the development of depression and anxiety which if not handled well by seeking counselling from significant people such as peers, supervisors or psychologists, may further develop into bi-polar or uni-polar disorders which is characterized by suicidal ideations.

Furthermore, issue about teen relationship has also shown to be one major cause of suicide among young adults according to WHO. The stigmatization attached to students after a 4 year stay in a university campus without a boyfriend or girlfriend has also shown to cause depression among students. Many of such students begin to loose self-esteem as they see the university environment as a place to get a future husband or wife. Furthermore, report show that students who unfortunately lose such friend in a form of breakups may develop depression as meeting a new partner may be a journey coupled with doubt.

Reported raped cases and other assaults on our various campuses have also shown to cause stigmatization among victims on campus who do not seek counselling from psychologists, and as a result are unable to cope with their situation. Such victims may end it all as such trauma is most often characterized by suicidal ideations.

Inasmuch as various institutions such as the mental health institutions, the Ghana Psychology Association and other concerned organizations are calling for the government’s intervention, the media to me by far contribute to this unfortunate incidence.

I was really surprised the way some social commentators, and specially some local radio stations comment on this psychological disorders. The media which is to educate, inform and entertain have unethically reported vividly some of these incidences with pictures of it on social media as some have failed to educate the public on help-seeking. There is therefore this school of thought that children and for that matter the youth may learn by observation. Seeing these images may be printed in their mind where they may see suicide as the only option.

The concerns raised by majority of Ghanaians, need to be addressed by the government, and Parliament to start thinking about what we can do on this serious public health issue.

The country will therefore need a Mental Health Bill to address this challenge. Increased budgetary allocation is also a priority as reports show that the various mental health institutions in the county are less equipped leading to most of these professionals vacating their post.

Government must therefore post psychologists to all Secondary Schools and tertiary institutions, and a well-equipped Counselling Centers in hospitals.

By: Jesse Ashley (Psychologist, Graduate – University of the Witwatersrand)