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Nigerians tasked on mental health, action to curb rising suicides

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Prof. Hope Eghagha (in green track pant) and members of the Mind And Soul Helpers Initiative (MASHI) on a march to stop suicide. PHOTO: FEMI ADEBESIN-KUTI


Suicide is real and no longer stranger than fiction. About five reported cases occurred in the country in the last one week. Of the number, Lagos State topped last week’s chat with two reported incidents – an employee of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Sunday Gbenga Meshioye, who drank the infamous pesticide, Snipper, after appearing before the institution’s panel of inquiry and Abiodun Tijani, a furniture maker who hanged himself after suspecting that his wife of 12 years was indulging in extra-marital affairs.

UNILAG, in its reaction to last Wednesday’s incident, had said Meshioye was scheduled to have a date with the university’s counseling unit before he committed suicide. In a statement by the Principal Assistant Registrar, Communication Unit of the university, Mrs. Taiwo Oloyede, Meshioye, who was the Transport Supervisor for the Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences, was facing a panel investigating how a vehicle in his care got burnt. The panel had only sat once.

“Mr. Meshioye, before his unfortunate demise, had been scheduled for a session with the Counseling Unit of the university, after reported cases of attempted suicide. On Tuesday, September 10, the deceased appeared before a Panel of Inquiry set up in accordance with the extant rules of the university to investigate the cause of the fire that gutted the bus in his custody. His painful decision to end his life came even before the panel had concluded its investigations, as the panel had only sat once. The Vice Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, on behalf of the university community commiserates with the family and prays that God grants them the fortitude to bear the loss,” the statement reads.

Worried by the increasing spate of suicides in the country, Mind And Soul Helpers Initiative (MASHI), led by Head, Department of English, UNILAG, Prof. Hope Eghagha, marched from the sports complex of the university to the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Yaba.

The group of young Nigerians, decked in their white caps and t-shirts, distributed fliers while reiterating their theme: ‘Stop suicide, save a life’ to the throng of motorists, onlookers and passersby as they marched towards the hospital, otherwise referred to as Yaba left.

MASHI says it is responding to the increased rate of suicide and the mental illnesses among Nigerians by instituting rehabilitation measures and creating awareness against stigmatization. The group’s messages on the fliers and banners included: Don’t be ashamed of your story, it will inspire others; Not everyone will understand; Break the silence: Mental illness is not a taboo; Don’t ask me to snap out of it; Mental illness is like any other health issues; Avoid stigmatisation.

While many received the fliers and nodded in agreement, others quipped asking government to tackle the menace. One passerby said: “This protest una dey do, no be government cause am? Make una tell government to do better for us, then suicide go stop.”

A young man who joined the rally midway said the message of the campaign resonates with him. He told The Guardian that freelance photography was his way out of depression. “I had two options; either to shoot with a gun or shoot with a camera. It has been an experience of struggle coming out of depression but the struggle itself makes it fun. I am a freelance photographer documenting life on the street, which is why I came down from the tricycle I was in to document this and join the walk.”

According to the convener of the walk, Eghagha, MASHI was his own response to the spate of suicides taking place around campuses and his personal concern after going through a traumatic experience of being kidnapped. “When I saw the kinds of emotions it produced in me, I said if people went through this without professional guidance, it might lead to something else. The immediate reason though was a young girl I saw who was very happy and then I heard she committed suicide. So, I decided to form an organization and bring like-minds together.”

On how the objectives of MASHI can be achieved, Eghagha listed advocacy and awareness campaigns. “Some people can be nursing suicidal thoughts without actually knowing it is a problem. It then deteriorates until they take that final action. We want to increase our advocacy. We have been to some schools, but we intend visiting churches and mosques to raise hope and make them aware about the symptoms of mental illness. For instance, when a somewhat lively person begins to withdraw to himself, it means something is wrong and it is time to talk to professionals.”

A counseling and clinical psychologist, Dr. Mustapha Toyin Sanbe, said everyone needs someone to lean on. “It is best to lean on professionals, especially psychologists who are trained in the art and sciences of understanding how human beings think, feel and behave. More often than not, a suicide issue is a cognitive distortion, thinking irrationally and negatively.

Suicide is a process starting from ideation, thinking about it and feeling helpless, which dovetails into hopelessness before the act is then committed. There are a lot of frustrated people in society and it is because we have not appreciated the fact that mental illness is like other forms of illnesses like diabetes and hypertension. There is nothing to be ashamed of and it is better people with mental illness are given the right attention and treatment. Psychologists are trained to assist people who are in such mood to get back to the appropriate and right mood.”

A 73-year-old woman, Mrs. Lucy Jonah, who did the almost 10km-walk, though joining halfway, advised young people to limit their expectations. “Life is about falling and rising, but we live in a generation where people don’t face realities. The situation that makes people to commit suicide is nothing because we grew up at a time when things where difficult and we never thought it was difficult. At that time, we had to walk four to six miles to fetch water and five people can share just a bottle of soft drinks. We were not expecting too much from life.

“The problem today is that people are expecting too much from life and they are not facing realities. The economy is bad but let us develop coping mechanisms. What do we need 10 pairs of shoes for; what do we need the whole wardrobe full of clothes for; must we ride the best cars. Even with all these acquisitions, will it make us happy? Any sane human being should not think of taking his own life. Again, where is our faith? When I heard about MASHI, I thought I should lend my experience to the group and to the public because my life has been with a lot of bumps but eventually, the bumps have been conquered and to the glory of God, I am on a very firm ground.”


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