The increasing rate of depression and suicide among youths has become a source of worry to parents, guardians and other concerned stakeholders. Over the last few months, some youth-suicide cases were reported by the media. DAYO OJERINDE, in this piece, speaks to some youths who have gone through depression and suicidal thoughts, as well as experts who proffer possible solutions
According to a report published by the World Health Organisation on its website, Suicide, on September 2, 2019, close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year.
“Every year, close to 800 000 people take their own life and there are many more people who attempt suicide. Every suicide is a tragedy that affects families, communities and entire countries and has long-lasting effects on the people left behind. Suicide occurs throughout the lifespan and was the second leading cause of death among 15 to 29 year-old globally in 2016.
“Suicide does not just occur in high-income countries but is a global phenomenon in all regions of the world. In fact, over 79 per cent of global suicides occurred in low- and middle-income countries in 2016,” the WHO report reads partly.
On May 13, 2021, The PUNCH reported the death of a 200-level student of Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State, Feranmi Fasule, who committed suicide.
She was reported to have taken insecticide and was later rushed to the Federal Medical Centre, Owo, where she gave up the ghost.
The PUNCH on February 17 reported that a 400-level Mathematics student of the Federal University, Dutse, Jigawa State, Bashir Abdulalhi, committed suicide because his girlfriend, one Raf’at, jilted him.
Abdulalhi, an indigene of Ungwa Uku Tarauni Local Government Area of Kano State, took the action because he could not bear the pain of his girlfriend leaving him on Valentine’s Day.
The PUNCH had also reported on April 20 that a 200-levet student of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, in the department of Management and Accounting, Emmanuel Adedeji, committed suicide.
Adedeji, it was said, left a suicide note after he took a poisonous substance which led to his death.
A classmate of the deceased, who did not want his name revealed, said Emmanuel suffered depression after a failed business deal.
Also, The PUNCH, on June 25 reported that the grandson of a multi-billionaire, Prince Samuel Adedoyin, Subomi Olobayo, died.
The 28-year-old was reported to have committed suicide at his parents’ home, in GRA, Ilorin.
The stories of Fasule, Adedeji and Olabayo are among the numerous depression and suicidal cases among youths; while some were reported in the media, some may never catch the attention of members of the public.
I burnt my suicide note, says survivor
However, some persons suffered depression and overcame the urge to end their lives.
For instance, 22-year-old Victoria Ofila, an indigene of Delta State, told our correspondent that she once contemplated suicide.
Ofila said nobody was there for her during the period she passed through depression.
She said, “I dealt with depression between December 2020 and early 2021. I had so much going on and I tried to use my work to cover up my emotions; I tried to keep myself so busy that I will not have time to feel depressed, but it got to a point that I couldn’t take it anymore.
“I went to a therapist who placed me on antidepressants. I was supposed to be on that drug for three months, but after about three weeks I stopped using them because they made me feel worse.
“Before this, I had a breakdown; that was around September 2019; I wasn’t depressed, I just had a lot of emotions that I was bottling up within me. I recall that I was on a public bus going to work, then I just started crying. A lady in the bus took me to a canteen, where she listened to me talk about everything I was going through. After that, we pray together and we went our separate ways.
“After that, I posted a tweet that because of what she did to me I was able to relieve myself from some bottled emotions. I put my number on Twitter and told people that they could call me whenever they were feeling low. I did that for some months.
“I later realised that I was avoiding my own emotions. I was listening to peoples’ problems and thinking of ways to help them. This did not allow me to think about my problems.”
Ofila added that things began to get worse after her 22nd birthday in March, 2021.
She said, “After my birthday in March, I was at my lowest point. I quit some of my hustles and went to a friend’s place. I was that person people could go to for help, but I didn’t know how to separate other peoples’ emotional baggage from mine.
“I was also going through some family issues. One day, I was talking to someone that I looked up to, and the person said I was a disappointment. That was it for me.
“After that person told me that I was a disappointment, I started having suicidal thoughts. I felt if I committed suicide, I won’t feel the emotional pain again. I thought that someone that is not alive could not be depressed. I had close pals that assured me I could talk to them anytime I needed someone to talk to, but anytime I wanted to talk to them they were dealing with their own issues. I felt betrayed, nobody was there for me.
“At that point, there was a lot of drama going on in my house; this was one of the reasons why I was depressed. I had written my suicide note, I got some pills, I locked myself in the room and was going through my suicide note when I overheard my mum, talking to herself. She said she was tired. Then I thought that it would be selfish of me to take my life when my mum was going through a lot. I called another friend, and thankfully he was available. I pour out my mind to him. He listened and talked to me, and at that point, the burden was lifted; I decided to burn the suicide note.”
I’m happily married with children, I still felt depressed – Adekoya
For Mrs Oyebola Adekoya, the founder of a non-governmental organisation, Heartrose Care Foundation, her coping mechanism during her travails with depression was writing.
She told our correspondent that she engaged in a lot of writing to wade off depression thoughts.
She said, “I felt unfulfilled and life was becoming meaningless to me. I struggled with the spirit of nothingness, emptiness and thick darkness. I often feel my life has been suspended.
“I have lost joy, my self-esteem, my dreams, visions and my aspirations. I kept moving on through life; I lost touch with true life. Even if I want to make a progressing movement I was often held back by the web of yesteryears and bound by the prison of my mind.
“Despite that I am happily married with children I still felt locked up inside of me. One thing I enjoyed doing that serves as a healthy coping mechanism for me is my writing. I find joy in this creative skill. I also enjoyed talking to people.”
Other victims share depression experiences
One of the victims, who preferred to be anonymous, said his mental health was affected as a result of his family background.
Although, he had overcome depression, he advised people passing through similar experiences not to give room for suicidal thoughts.
He said, “I was born and raised from a broken home. Being the first child of my parents, I had so many responsibilities on my shoulder that weighed me down. I had to live an exemplary life for my younger brothers and make my mummy happy with me all the time. But the situation between my parents wasn’t helping matters at all.
“I became depressed as time goes on at a very tender age because I saw everything that was happening, but couldn’t do anything even when I understood it clearly. I cried in secret for being useless, then this affected my mental health; I became a real psychopath, everyone that came across me never wanted to relate with me because of my temperament. Then one day my brothers and I were picked up from school by our mother. Instead of going to our house, we went to a different place. I asked my mom where she was taking us to and she said, ‘our new home.’ We lived in our new home without my father.
“For years, I have been living without my father; just my mom and my brothers. I grew to hate my dad and later took up drinking because it helped elevate all the negative feelings; I never wanted to be like my father and the jealousy of seeing others with their parents laughing and smiling stung. Anytime I feel depressed I drown with alcohol. It was as if I was indirectly trying to commit suicide.
“But I never let my mental state affect my education; I read hard passed my examinations with flying colours and pursued my dream of becoming a lawyer at the University of Ibadan. In UI, I met a guy who was my best friend and my boyfriend. He is gay (I’m praying for him), he stood by me and gave me support and shoulders to cry on, he tried making me stop drinking. I fell for him and that was the beginning of my sexual perverseness. I did a lot of sexual atrocities with him until I saw a post on a friend’s status; I knew I needed serious help. I sent a very long message to the friend and she began to teach me about Christianity. I gradually got out of my woods. My advice to anyone passing through what I passed through is this; don’t give up on life because the one who loves you the most will never give up on you. Also, find somebody to talk to”
Another anonymous person, who narrated his challenges with depression, said, as an undergraduate, he faced many challenges, including lack of food and accommodation.
“There was a time I had an issue with getting accommodation. My hope was on getting an accommodation in a particular place that I didn’t think of any other alternative. My classes had already started and I had to be coming from my house which was almost a two-hour drive if there is no traffic jam on the way. Most mornings, I had my lectures as early as 7am and I usually ended my activities by 7pm.
“The transport fare was too expensive and then, I could have only one hour to rest. Like a robot, I attended my classes even when I didn’t understand anything and I forced myself to do other necessary things. The activities that made me happy suddenly felt like a burden that I needed to get rid of. I became terribly depressed and I went back to my shell as fast as I could. My past mistakes and troubles began to hunt me once again and I found it difficult to sleep. I really wanted to be out of the world. I wanted to quit school and find something less stressful to do. I wanted to end my life. I kept pretending to be fine every day when I wasn’t. I finally got a place closer to my school and I thought that the stress was finally going to be over.
“Things turned worse at this point as I began to feel lonely. I overworked myself so I wouldn’t have time to think about these troubles but it didn’t seem to work. As I returned from school one day, I saw a knife on my table and the thought of making use of it came upon me so strongly. I kept hearing, ‘It will just be a few minutes and it will be painless. Your blood will just be on the floor and they will only discover it after you have gone.’ I felt like it was the easy way out until I mustered up the courage to look away from the knife and the thoughts disappeared. There were also days when I could not stop shedding tears because I was extremely tired of life. The only thing that kept me going was my parents and some friends that kept in touch. One day, I finally opened up to two of my friends and at that moment the pain I thought would never go away began to ease off. I began to pray again and those negative thoughts stopped.”
Depression is a common mental disorder, says Psychologist
However, clinical psychologist at the Ladoke Akintola University Teaching Hospital, Ogbomosho, Oyo State, Dr Oluwafisayo Adebimpe, told our correspondent in an interview that depression was one of the leading causes of death in young adults’ population in Nigeria.
She said, “Depression is significantly under-diagnosed in the youth, partially because mental health experts look for symptoms of adult depression, which may present differently in youths. However, a young person experiencing persistent boredom or disinterest in daily activities because of depression can become agitated and difficult to manage. Most often these young people do not always seem unhappy or sad. They rarely get treatment for the underlying cause of their behaviour.
“Depression is a common mental disorder that presents with depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure, decreased energy, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite and poor concentration. Moreover, depression often comes with symptoms of anxiety. These problems can become chronic or recurrent and lead to substantial impairments in an individual’s ability to take care of his or her everyday responsibilities. At its worst, depression can lead to suicide. According to the World Health Organisation, almost one million lives are lost yearly due to suicide, which translates to 3,000 suicide deaths every day. For every person who completes suicide, 20 or more may attempt to end his or her life.
“Depression is a mental disorder that is pervasive in the world and affects us all. Unlike many large-scale international problems, a solution for depression is at hand. Efficacious and cost-effective treatments are available to improve the health and the lives of millions of people around the world suffering from depression. On an individual, community and national levels, it is time to educate ourselves about depression and support those who are suffering from this mental disorder.
“A hallmark of depression is dangerousness to self — that is, suicide. Depression is a risk factor for suicidal thinking (there are many more attempts at suicide than there are completed acts). Good mental health care can reduce the risk, and suicide prevention programmes and hotlines can provide support. However, the focus on suicide and its prevention draw attention away from the fact that in ‘worst case’ situations, depression and resultant suicidal thinking/suicide attempts can be dangerous to others.”
The expert said a lot of youths experience chronic sadness, lack of motivation, low self-esteem, and impulses to harm themselves, withdrawal from friends, poor academic performance, and mistrust in authority figures.
Oluwafisayo said, “Besides life events and family history, other factors that play a role in causing depression include social environment, medical conditions, and negative thought patterns. A stressful home environment or neighborhood poverty and violence can lead to depression. Other causes are having issues that negatively impact self-esteem, such as obesity, peer problems, trauma, instability, neglect, long-term bullying or academic problems, been the victim or witness of violence, such as physical or sexual abuse.”
Suicide, third leading cause of death among youths – Kadiri
Also, a mental health advocate, Dr Maymunah Kadiri, in an interview with The PUNCH, said suicide remained the third leading cause of death among teenagers and youths.
“There have been several studies to determine the root cause of this behavior. It is well-known that suicidal thoughts and behavior reflect an increased severity of depression. In Nigeria unfortunately, mental health care continues to remain unaffordable and inaccessible, especially to those with a lower socioeconomic status. Additionally, there is still a widespread stigma, discrimination and prejudice towards people dealing with mental illness no matter the severity. Nevertheless, mental health experts continue to advocate for our youths by encouraging them to know that suicide is never the answer. For them, we understand that the pain they may feel at any moment feels insurmountable but we want them to know that there is nothing that cannot be talked through or dealt with, if only they find a trusted adult and/or a mental health expert to share these issues with.
“It has been posited that youths are more susceptible to depression and suicide due to the physical, emotional and environmental changes they face as they transition from childhood through adolescence into adulthood. They are forming their identity while navigating the often murky waters of being considered adults. They move out of home, into the university space and the workforce often miles away from home, solidifying their independence and developing personalities distinct from their caregivers.
“These changes can be overwhelming leading to feelings of fear, anxiety, increased stress, social isolation, peer pressure and possibly depression. The rising cases of suicide can also be attributed to recent environmental changes due to the pandemic which led to a global lockdown. One of the major causes of suicide is social isolation and the inability to connect and engage in activities that foster interconnectedness and togetherness,” Kadiri said.
‘Channel your energy to positive goals’
A consultant psychiatrist at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba, Dr Kafayat Ogunsola, urged youths to shun depression and suicidal thoughts.
She said, “To the youth, channel your excess energy and apply yourself positively. Focus on yourself and your journey, set realistic goals as you go, and avoid comparing yourself to other people; this can trigger depression in you. Whatever the magnitude of your current struggle, you can overcome it. However, you cannot return from taking your life. In essence, your life is more valuable than exchanging it as the solution to a life crisis. Accepted, you are faced with this challenging race that is life, and the uncertainties are hard to cope with. But drugs will not make this process easier for you. If you are struggling psychologically and it seems like the only option for you is suicide, seek help. Shun self and public stigma and fight for your life.
“To parents, the changes in the world are palpable, it appears also that resilience has dropped tremendously in this present generation, coupled with the fact that there is a lot of information and trends influencing lifestyle, affecting choices and impacting emotional health negatively. You also need to learn to balance discipline and warmth whilst parenting, get help in this regard, if you must. As much as financial and material provisions are valuable to children, emotional bond is also key while raising them. Unstable family dynamics such as domestic violence and abuse also alters the mental state of children and can predispose them to develop mental disorders or seeking out drugs to cope with the negative home atmosphere. Of utmost importance is that, if your child asks to speak to a therapist, when they are going through something, please listen, help them connect to and support them as they access the service.
“To the government, global statistical figures report that one out four people at a given time, have a lifetime risk of having a mental disorder, when we do the mathematics for Nigerians, it puts the count to about 50 million Nigerians. Therefore, mental health has to be prioritised; hotline services for suicide and counseling services should be made available to youths and already existing services of this type will thrive with government support and backing.
“Finally, mental health care and its professionals need to be widespread in Nigeria, the access skew balanced and the cost of treatment subsidised for affordability by all Nigerians.
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