September 19, 2023

SUICIDE PREVENTION: We must change our perceptions, provide support — SHEIKH

SUICIDE PREVENTION: We must change our perceptions, provide support — SHEIKH

By Sola Ogundipe

A MENTAL health expert and representative of LifeLine International Continental, Prof Taiwo Lateef Sheikh, has called for renewed approach towards tackling the challenge of suicide in Nigeria and africa as a whole.

Sheikh, who spoke as Nigeria joined the rest of the world to mark the 2023 World Suicide Prevention Day, said,”There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this challenge. In Africa, attitudes towards suicide are deeply intertwined with cultural, traditional, and religious beliefs. We need to change these perceptions, address myths, and provide support to those in need. Our approach must align with our cultural values to create lasting impact.

“We support the establishment of frameworks for suicide prevention and evidence-based suicide prevention interventions within communities in partnership with local players, and campaign to change the law in countries where suicide remains a crime, and wherever other laws restrict access to life-saving help.”

He observed that suicide remains a significant issue across the African continent, which is home to six of the 10 countries with the highest suicide rates in the world, but said  with access to timely and available crisis support services,lives can be saved.

“As we mark World Suicide Prevention Day in 2023, under the theme “Creating hope through action”, we believe that by talking about suicide, and by providing better access to evidence-based interventions, we have the power to change the misconceptions and beliefs about suicide, and prevent this tragic loss of life across Africa.”

Sheikh said across Africa, insufficient public spending on mental health and suicide prevention is a major barrier for providing assistance, noting that the role of frontline organisations such as LifeLine International’s Members is doubly important.

He regretted that mental health, including the risk of suicide, affects millions of people across Africa even as stigma and cultural misconceptions often compound these issues.

“Effective suicide prevention can only take place through a whole-of-society approach that involves the government, CSOs, and community leaders. Tackling suicide and creating environments where individuals feel supported – and comfortable enough to seek help – requires reshaping attitudes.

He called for commitment d to advocating for and supporting policy change, including in the most challenging environments where suicide remains a crime. Criminalisation is counterproductive, reinforcing stigma and creating barriers for individuals seeking help. It is an unnecessary measure that does not deter suicide.

According to the World Health Organisation, WHO, suicide is a major public health problem with far-reaching social, emotional and economic consequences.

“Creating Hope Through Action” is the triennial theme for the World Suicide Prevention Day from 2021-2023. The theme serves as a powerful call to action and reminder that there is an alternative to suicide and that through our actions we can encourage hope and strengthen prevention.