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Experts admit spike in suicide attempts, cases due to COVID-19

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*Identify untreated clinical depression as single largest contribution to phenomenon

Medical experts have alerted to a sharp rise in suicide attempts and cases due to the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. They identified untreated clinical depression as the single largest contribution to suicides in Nigeria as well as being male.

The psychiatrist under the umbrella of the Suicide Research and Prevention Initiative (SURPIN) project of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), during an online interactive session, said the suicide rate for Nigeria according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) is 9.5 per 100,000 people. They said that is an increase from 6.5 per 100,000 people in 2012.

A consultant psychiatrist and coordinator of SURPIN, Dr. Raphael E. Ogbolu, said: “The suicide rate of 9.5 per 100,000 people was the last recorded rate according to WHO in 2015 and the expectation is that by the end of 2020 this would be updated officially. However, the concern is that there was an increase of three from 2012 to 2015. The risk factors are common things. The single largest contribution to suicide is untreated clinical depression and that is why addressing clinical depression is the best way of addressing suicide. Other risk factors include being male. We found that more males dies by suicide even though more females attempt suicide. Having a chronic medical condition is a risk factor and anyone who had previously attempted suicide is at higher risk of dying by suicide. Hopelessness in any one’s life is a factor for suicide. Substance abuse is a risk factor for suicide.

“Common identifiable stressors going by our hotlines showed things like marital conflicts, financial difficulties, academic challenges. We have people who have called because they belong to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and Nigeria is a difficult thing to them we have had people who have called for other related reasons too.”

Ogbolu added: “What we do is that every six months we analyse our call data the analysis as of June this year showed that since we started in 2017 the calls we received in May have been the highest. Let's say COVID-19 had an impact on people's lives.”

To help address the situation and to mark the World Suicide Prevention Day, SURPIN will be holding a national e-conference with the theme “Together towards Collaborative Resilience” on Saturday, September 12 at 10 am. The sub-theme is Building Resilience Post C0VID-19. Ogbolu said SURPIN has pioneered suicide prevention in Nigeria and is the most structured suicide prevention organisation in Nigeria with a presence in 32 states of the country and over 100 professionals involved in saving lives through its hotlines, training, and other activities.

The psychiatrist further explained: “This year Nigeria has been plagued by COVID-19 just like other countries around the world and the attendant uncertainty, disruption of previously normal ways of living have tasked the resilience of a lot of people, and thus exposed many people to several factors that contribute to the suicidal tendency by compromising mental wellbeing. We have already seen the impact of this in our hotline calls whereby in the month of May we received about the most calls since inception in 2017. These were most likely as a result of the lockdown and restrictions. We consider the first wave of increased calls.

“We are concerned that there may be a second wave after full re-opening as people return to school and begin to face the financial impact of COVID-19, especially such things as bad loans with debtors calling and relationship conflicts, among other things. That informed the choice of the conference theme and sub-theme.”

Also, as part of the activities to commemorate this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day, Ogbolu said SURPIN organised an Enlightenment Video/Drama Contest. Drama troupes and people who love acting or videography had until August 31, 2020, to send five-minute videos promoting suicide prevention. He said the purpose of the competition was to get Nigerians to tell the story of suicide and the factors contributing to it in their own creative way that will also serve to educate the populace. The process could also unearth talent and will engage young people constructively during these times when there is so much uncertainty. It is just one of the creative ways SURPIN tries to engage people and promote mental wellbeing. “We, therefore, invite people to attend and learn about ways to maintain mental wellbeing now and after COVID-19. Visit the website www.surpinng.com for registration and more details. The conference is sponsored by Goethe Institut and Medical Women’s Association of Nigeria (MWAN) Edo state chapter and partnered by Insight health consulting and Boom radio, and without them, it would not have been possible. SURPIN continues to be supported by LUTH, where it all started from,” Ogbolu said.


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