As book on suicide reporting guidelines debuts
By Juliet Umeh
Experts have stressed the need for Nigerians to begin to see suicide as a health issue rather than a criminal act.
The experts who spoke during the virtual launch of a book on guidelines for media reporting of suicide, titled: “The Morning After”, noted that responsible media reports on suicide will mitigate the current rising cases in Nigeria.
The launch organised by Nous Foundation Nigeria, in partnership with the Health Writers Association of Nigeria, HEWAN, featured over 120 participants from various aspects of life in Nigeria and abroad.
Participants acknowledged the book as a veritable tool for informing and educating the public about suicide.
The book reviewer, the Former Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Ministry of Health, Dr. Femi Olugbile, said concerns are more on the mainstream media and citizen reporters on how they report issues surrounding suicide without consideration on the implications to the families and society.
Olugbile, a psychiatrist, observed that media reports are often done without sympathy for the parties concerned who are severely traumatised by the incident.
He said the nine-chapter book deals with suicide and its attempts as a medical condition, noting that majority of the people who have committed suicide had a diagnosable psychiatric error.
Olugbile said the book also touched on matters of the law, which recognises suicide as a criminal offense rather than a medical condition, in which those who attempt suicide and were not successful are handed over to the police and immediately charge to the magistrate court for a criminal offense.
One of the authors, Dr. Olufemi Oluwatayo said the book is a reflection on how the media report suicide cases in the country, without considering the immediate and long-term effect on the family of the deceased and the economy.
Oluwatayo lamented that while international communities have policy data on suicide, Nigeria is yet to develop one, adding that one of the ways data was gathered in the book was through interviews with families of suicide victims.
The Co-author, Martins Ifijeh, said the book was written to bring to the fore the WHO guidelines for suicide reporting, which journalists have not explored in their reporting of suicide cases in Africa and Nigeria in particular.
Ifijeh noted that the guidelines were developed in order for journalists not to fuel suicide in their specific reporting styles.
He said the second reason for writing the book was for the obsolete mental law in Nigeria, which criminalised suicide, adding that suicide is a health issue that should be reported from the health angle rather than reporting from the police angle.
Also speaking, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, 8th National Assembly, Lanre Tejuosho, said the book would be vital in amending the Mental Health Bill, adding that the 264 victims of suicide are a fraction of the actual number of the underreported cases of Nigerians who committed suicide in the last four years.
The President, HEWAN, Mrs. Basilla C. Obinna,should play a critical role in educating the public on mental illness, but said lack of training of journalists on effective reportage of suicide was a challenge.
“When suicide is inappropriately reported, it fuels stigma. From the book, we have been made to understand that when you use the word ‘commit’ it is tagging suicide as a crime and not a health condition.”
In his view, the Chairman Editorial Board, Thisday, Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi, who is a co-reviewer of the book said many suicide victims go through challenges, which they keep to themselves, especially with the way society sees those with mental issues as medical conditions, which requires urgent medical attention and not as a crime, adding that the book is a must-read for a society like ours.