Kwaku Brobbey, Head of Communications, Mental Health Authority | Daily Graphic | Tuesday, June 28, 2016.
Saturday September 10 was World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD). It is an awareness day observed on 10 September every year to provide worldwide commitment and action to prevent suicides around the world. In Ghana, the day was marked with an education and awareness creation program put together by the Ministry of Health and the Mental Health Authority at the Southern Ghana Conference of the Seventh Day Adventist Church in North Ridge.
Reflecting on the day and its significance always gets me wondering; why on God’s earth will anyone want to take their own lives? If indeed “Life’s Good” as has been touted in some quarters and to even consider the downside of life; have we all not come to accept that “life is not a bed of roses” which ascribes life as not always being smooth sailing, hence characterized with ups and downs? So if we, as “reasonable beings” have been imbibed with these realities of life, then the million dollar question is what at all drives humans to the point of taking their own lives.
Thursday 8th September began as an ordinary day. I was rudely awoken by the barking of dogs in my Ogbojo home very early in the morning. The barking of the dogs was not very unusual, but its persistence got me somehow anxious, hence the resolve to go check out what could have been happening out there. On stepping out, across the street in front of my house was Papao (not real name) a calm quiet young man who lived as a caretaker in the house directly opposite that of my next door neighbor. We had not been the best of acquaintances, but had shared a few “hellos” and “how are yous”.
Papao was his usual quite self that morning, and as I walked into the backyard to find out why the unusual barking, he strolled down the street away from the house he catered for. Finding nothing unusual, I returned indoors and got myself ready to drop the little one at school and then proceed to work.
I got back home that evening and found an unusual gathering of people in the neighborhood, calls coming across from one person to the other. Again, this was unusual so I thought I would enquire about this artificial chaos that seemed to be rearing its head in a rather quiet settlement. After all, it was close to the place I call my home. Papao had hanged himself from a mango tree standing right in the middle of the house he catered. I was distraught. I had just seen him this morning strolling down the street. What could have gotten over him to do this to himself? Could I have prevented this? What could I have done? Papao, the young man I saw to be resourceful and productive because he would farm every piece of land that lay fallow in the area with food crops had committed suicide, and his body was being moved from the “crime” scene to the morgue.
It is quite intriguing and almost unbelievable when the numbers on suicide crunch. The World Health Organization indicates that over an estimate 800,000 people die by committing suicide each year. The reality of this statistic works out to one person taking their life every 40 seconds, and to add the toppings to the bagels, 20,000,000 other people make a suicide attempt every year. The tragic ripple effect of this phenomenon means that many more people have been bereaved by suicide or have been close to someone who has tried to take his or her own life. The statistics is staggering. This brings to the fore the myriad of people who indirectly are suffering in silence having lost a loved one, be it the breadwinner of a household, the father of a family, the mother who runs the home or the caretaker who takes care of the house.
SUFFERING IN SILENCE
I describe relations of people who have died by taking their own lives in our part of the world as suffering in silence because in our part of the world, death by suicide is “sacred”, perhaps an abominable reverence. It has a tendency to seclude the victim’s family or community from where he/she hails, from other families or communities. In other words, the family may be seen as “curst” or ill-fated and as such laden with an abomination. Consequently, people from such families or lineages should not be mingled with (as in marriage) since they bear the trait of abomination. This sometimes extends to the community, breeding chords of ostracization on people from the community.
To prevent such victimization from hanging on the neck of the family or the community, elders of such communities either cover up the cause of death of suicide victims, or in cases where the act was committed in the open, various reconciliatory acts or appeasements are undertaken to pacify the gods and to cleanse the community and its people from the effects of the abominable act.
WHAT DRIVES PEOPLE TO ATTEMPT OR COMMIT SUICIDE
There are a thousand and one reasons in today’s crisis hit economies around the world that will tip one off into the abyss of pain and hopelessness and drive them to do the unthinkable. It has been said time and again that each individual has a limit to which they are able to cope with the stresses of life, and each individual may react differently to a certain degree of stress they may be going through. The WHO definition of mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”, is very precise on the individual’s ability to “cope with the normal stresses of life”. The extent to which every individual can cope with the “normal” stresses of life varies, hence, the presumed overreaction by some people which in most cases have turned out to be fatal, resulting in attempted suicides and in worst cases completed suicides.
The second part of this article will focus on why suicide is often the option of choice and what as a society, we can do to reduce or better still prevent the incidence of suicide.