Call for implementation of Coroner System

By Chioma Obinna

With the increasing cases of copycat suicide, psychiatrists and mental health advocates have said that responsible media reporting of suicide cases would end copycat suicidal behaviours as well as reduce the incident.

They also lamented that Nigeria law which classified suicide as a criminal, calling for the full implementation of Corona system across the 36 states of the country.

Speaking during a virtual Media Training tagged: “Responsible Suicide Reporting: Role of Nigerian Journalists”, organised by the Health Writers Association of Nigeria, HEWAN, in partnership with the Retreat Healthcare and the Nous Foundation Nigeria, the experts submitted that glamourisation of suicide in the media leads to copycat suicidal behaviours.

In his presentation titled: “The Role of Mental Disorders in Suicide”, a Consultant Psychiatrist and former Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Ministry of Health, Dr Olufemi Olugbile, declared that social media bullying and modeling, as well as availability of information concerning ways of carrying out the act increase the likelihood of suicide.\

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Olugbile who noted that suicidal attempts were more common among females and completed incidents more in males disclosed that about 800, 000 suicides occur annually worldwide.

Stating that the suicide rate in Nigeria is put at 6.9 per 100, 000 population per year, he said more than 90 per cent of people who commit suicide suffer from an associated physical or mental health condition.

He said: individuals between the ages of 30 years and below are more involved in suicide. “Chronic physical illnesses, especially those associated with pain, may be associated with suicidal thinking and incidents of ‘completed’ suicide. 

“Stigma associated with a previous incident might become the reason for suicidal behaviour.

Continuing, the former Chief Medical Director, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, said existing Nigerian law treated suicide as a criminal act, and called for a paradigm shift to regard a suicide survivor as a patient and not a culprit.

Olugbile urged media practitioners to stop reporting suicide from the sensational criminal incident attitude but as a health condition.

He said journalists should adopt the approach of reflecting ‘suicide as an illness’, adding that reporting ‘suicide as an illness’ was a humane, modern and evidence-based approach to suicide reporting.

“Every citizen has a role to play.  The Press, as the Fourth Estate of the Realm, have a vital role in educating the citizenry, and shaping public perceptions concerning Suicide and other mental health issues.  The first requirement is that they acquire knowledge, which will inform their actions as they carry out their duties.

In her presentation, entitled: “Responsible Suicide Reporting (RSR): The Social And Legal Implications”, a UK based Nigerian lawyer, and Founder, The Nous Foundation Nigeria, , Ms Lade Olugbemi  called for a the establishment of a National Suicide Prevention Strategy to reduce suicide in the country as well as put the Coroner system in place to help determine cases of suicide.

Olugbemi who is also a Mental Health Advocate, said the Coroner’s Act and the role of the coroner should be made more active in disclosing the cause of death of individuals who died by suicide.

She advised that journalists should embrace responsible suicide reporting that made them aware of critical risk factors such as level of stigmatisation, copycat effects, harmful speculations and suicide prevention strategies.

“We need to be careful with our choice of words when reporting suicide.

“The media should stop using the word ‘a man commits suicide’ but use ‘man dies by suicide.”

Olugbemi said media reporting of suicide occurred globally, and the harm to which this coverage could contribute to suicide rate had been acknowledged.

She appealed to the government to decriminalise suicide in the country.  On his part, the Co-author of The Morning After, listed the recommendations for reporting suicide for the media to include; avoiding giving details of the method used; placing the story in prominent part of the paper or news; giving personal details or photographs of the person involved, among others.

In his presentation, Co-Author, Mr Martins Ifijeh, urged the media to embrace the World Health Organisation, WHO, guidelines on suicide reporting as well as shun sensational suicide reporting.

Continuing, Ms Laide Olugbemi said: “Suicide is one of the top leading causes of death worldwide and is one of the top five causes of death in adolescents.  Suicide has been identified not only as an individual phenomenon, but also as being influenced by social and environmental factors.

“There is increasing evidence that the Internet and social media can influence suicide-related behaviour Suicide rates among teenagers has seen a drastic increase from 2007 to 2017 as social media has become a prevalent way of life.”

Noting that media was a risk factor that can be modified, she said there was need to limit exposure to content which promotes contagion or spread of suicide-related thoughts and behaviours.

We need to use the RSR Model to increase adherence to global media reporting guidelines. We are asking that journalist use the RSR, a process of producing stories journalists should be more aware of critical risk factors like; Levels of stigmatisation, copycat effects, harmful speculation highlighted suicide preventions strategies.  The Coroners Act 2016 section 70 and 71 states that no person may, unless the person is granted an exemption under section 71A or has permission under section 72, make public— the method or any suspected method of the self-inflicted death; or  any detail (for example, the place of death) that suggests the method or any suspected method of the self-inflicted death; or  a description of the death as a suicide.”

She said the ripple effects of suicide was not just person that dies but  it affects families,  survivors of Bereave men, partners, siblings, sons and daughters, grandparents extended families among others.

Vanguard News Nigeria

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