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Stakeholders advocate urgent national suicide prevention strategy in Nigeria

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A Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr. Justin Achor, has said that no country has succeeded in reducing the burden of suicide without a national suicide prevention strategy, explaining that the tide of suicide in Nigeria can be stemmed through multi-level, multi-component interventions involving clinical and public health facets.

He stated that such a strategy would include the political will and commitment to prioritize and tackle problems, leadership and guidance on the necessary interventions and mobilizing the needed resources for their implementation.

Speaking on the topic, “Curbing the increasing trend of suicide in Nigeria: the role of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA)”, during the 2019 Physicians Week of the Enugu branch of the NMA, Achor also stated that doctors could contribute in the prevention of suicide through planning and implementation of education and communication initiatives as well as engagement of policymakers and politicians.

He said that about 83 percent of persons that committed suicide had contact with primary care doctors within one year of the event, adding that 45 -60 percent had a contact within one month but had their distress not detected during their visits.

He said that over 90 percent of individuals that commit suicide were burdened by diagnosable psychiatric disorders, especially depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, eating disorder, alcohol use, substance abuse or personality, and impulse control disorders.

Achor, said that doctors could do a lot to prevent deaths from suicide by improving psychiatric assessment skills and that applying it in the evaluation of first contact patients will go a long way in providing a cure.

He added that interviewing patients specifically to inquire about depression symptoms and suicidal ideation during general medical consultation was another strategy, stressing that suicide was a major public health problem in Nigeria that had assumed epidemic proportions.

He further said that doctors could help providence evidence for prevention of suicide and depression by asking members to undertake secondary research on the subject and using the data for policymaking activism.

“They can as well help explore innovative funding mechanisms for support of suicide prevention initiatives at local, institutional, and state levels and support initiatives for exploring options for providing aftercare to patients who have attempted suicide at different points of healthcare”, he suggested.

Achor also said that Policymakers can help prevent suicide by ensuring policies that will put the economy on the path of growth, reduce inflation and create employment opportunities, improve access to mental health care and reduce stigmatization and expand health insurance programme to cover the entire population.

Speaking on the theme of the Physicians Week; “Care of the unknown patient: an Overview”, Head, Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus (UNEC), Prof. Anthony Mba, described such a victim as one whose identity could not be ascertained, stressing that he could be an accident victims, acute cardiovascular collapse, substance abuse, and acute neurologic syndrome among others.

He recommended that such persons whether dead or alive should be given a name, wear a wrist band, take pictures and videos of what the person was wearing among others facial marks that could help announce and publicize the fellow.

Chairman of the NMA, Enugu state, Dr. Ike Okwesili, said that the delay in the full operationalisation of the National Health Act had hampered the care even for the “known patient”. He stated that the stand of the association was that everyone should have access to quality health care irrespective of the circumstance.

Meanwhile, stakeholders in mental health advocates have called for the urgent need to establish a national suicide prevention strategy to curb the rising menace, especially among youths in Nigeria.

The stakeholders, which include medical professionals, social workers, and non-governmental organisations among others, lamented the rise of suicide rate in the country, which they said could be prevented by putting measures in place to address it.

They gave the assertion ahead of the 2019 national conference scheduled to hold on Saturday, 26, at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), with the theme: “Suicide, a Challenge to Developing Country”.

The Chief Executive Officer, Sparkle Foundation, Olasimbo Ojuroye, lamented that there are lots not issues with stigma and mental health, as more youths are committing suicide with the need to find a lasting solution on how suicide cases can be decriminalised to ensure victims get help on time.

Also, the Chief Executive Officer, The NOUS foundation, Lade Olugbemi lamented that there is an increase in the number of people who die by suicide, as there is need to break barriers in mental health such as, cultural, language, religiosity, institutional stigma, and community system among others.

“Another barrier is the fact that our community system is broken down. We have allowed so much westernisation in place that what we used to experience in only the developed countries is what is experienced here. Everybody is self-centered not looking out for people. This is what made us as a society and all of it is broken down,” she said.

Olugbemi said the country’s legislature should develop a national suicide prevention strategy immediately to put things in check, as well as provide solutions to mental health issues before the situation gets worst.

Corroborating Olugbemi, the Deputy Director, Medical Social Service, Lagos University Teaching Hospital and Training Coordinator, Suicide Research and Prevention Initiative (SURPIN), Titi Tade, (SURPIN), estimated that three out of 10 Nigerians have mental health issues with 200 psychiatrists to cater for a population of about 200 million.

She said the number of mental health personnel is inadequate to cover the whole of Nigeria, which requires finding solutions to address the issue promptly.

Tade said the World Health Organisation has recommended that each country should have a national suicide prevention strategy, which other countries have identified and implemented, with Nigeria yet to address the menace rising among its youths.

“How can we work together to identify the signs and symptoms and know which area we can work on and they refer to the right channel. If we are not consistently pushing it out there we will not develop the national suicide prevention strategy we are talking about. So there is a constant need for us to talk about it and involve our legislators, they are the ones that can help us in designing this strategy,” she stressed.


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