By Sola Ogundipe
The absence of a national suicide prevention plan has continued to fuel death by suicide in Nigeria.
A Consultant Psychiatrist Dr. Taiwo Lateef Sheikh said the implementation and evaluation of a comprehensive, sustainable multi-sectoral national suicide prevention strategy is fundamental for elevating suicide prevention on the political agenda as recommended by the World Health Organisation, WHO.
Sheikh, who is the President of the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria, APN, lamented the incidences of suicide in Nigeria, even as he called on the Federal government to take the lead in developing a comprehensive strategy for Nigerians as a whole and vulnerable persons in particular.
Such national strategy and associated action plan, he said, are necessary to push forward the implementation of suicide prevention, without which efforts are likely to abate and suicide prevention will remain neglected.
“The target is to reduce premature mortality from noncommunicable diseases by one third by 2030 through prevention and treatment and the promotion of mental health and well-being.
“These targets are unlikely to be achieved except the government actively engage in efforts to prevent suicide,” he said.
Lamenting the incidences of suicide in Nigeria, Sheikh, described suicidality as a major societal and health care problem and should be given a high priority.
He said the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria in partnership with the Suicide Research and Prevention Initiative, SURPIN, found that about one-fifth of suicide cases seen at its affiliated institution involve persons aged 13-19 years and that the majority of the callers were aged 20- 39 years, with 63.5 percent of them having thoughts of suicide at the time of calling.
He said there is always a tendency to trivialise suicide and attempted suicide, the temptation of being judgmental, stereotypical, hostile and negative criticism is very high and this leads stigma.
According to Sheikh: “Prevention means community awareness programmes. These usually imbed helplines and public education at workplaces and schools to increase knowledge and reduce stigma.
“Programmes draw on lay gatekeepers such as clergy, teachers, and first-line responders who receive special training.
Along these lines, involving and training laypersons or non-specialised health professionals is an important means of suicide prevention, assessment, and management.”
Sheikh said professionals in primary care should be trained. “It has been shown in high-income countries that most individuals who later completed suicide had seen a physician or mental health professional during the 12 months prior to their deaths.
He said a special aspect of primary prevention refers to the internet and especially social media, which provide a multitude of information.
Help-seekers will find abundant information and addresses of lay and professional support, which is certainly sensible.
On secondary prevention, he said the health care system is of utmost importance. “Every health worker or gatekeeper should be aware of the fact and be trained to react adequately.