The call to address mental health issues increased a great deal over the last few years in Nigeria as incidents of more suicides appeared on timelines and the news. The COVID-19 pandemic significantly increased the existing anxiety and threat to human life, fears and actual events of health crises, job loss, and threats to security.
Instead of treating attempted suicide as a crime, we ought to invest more in preventive social and, in some cases, medical interventions. The problem, perhaps, that legislation aims to address is to discourage others from such attempts.
Suicides grant some kind of weird permission to others who had only considered it before, just like other human behaviours such as adultery, stealing, and lying or honesty, kindness, and patriotism. Where we are constantly mimicking one another for good or evil, news of suicides may open up other people to more serious consideration.
Why do people choose suicide?
I don’t think any single factor is enough for anyone to do a thing as final as suicide. True, some people may be more predisposed to suicidal thoughts due to underlying emotional or mental health issues. But I think it’s usually a combination of factors which on their own may be dealt with more easily, but put together become a monster too strong to wrangle.
It could be a combination of poverty, an associated feeling of powerlessness, hopelessness, a breakdown of relationships – family, romantic, community, loss of self-esteem, failure at a venture, underachievement.
It may seem strange to some but it could also be due to giftedness and underachievement. Many gifted and talented people struggle through life. Because they and the world around them often expect too much from them, anything short of glittering success or celebrity status may become an issue.
Managing mental health and stress: A few tips
1. Seek God. I offer this as a Christian. Pray to God for help. You will find an invisible source of strength and comfort to help you along your journey. Find out promises of hope and help from God in the Bible, and keep them close. Here are some soul-comforting passages from the Scriptures you should keep close to you:
“…I will never leave you nor forsake you.” – Joshua 1:9 (NIV)
“Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.” – Psalm 55:22 (NIV)
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Psalm 73:23-26 (NIV)
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. “All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced; those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish. Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. Those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all. For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” – Isaiah 41:10-13 (NIV)
“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” – John 14:27 (NLT)
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28 (NIV)
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4: 6-7 (NIV)
2. Seek to understand yourself. Understand when you are in a HALT situation (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired). Most irrational decisions are made when you are experiencing any of these conditions.
3. Seek community. Go home. Sometimes that may mean leaving your current location and heading home, if you will find comfort and support from family. Talk to a family member or friend when you are facing overwhelming issues. Do it as soon as as possible.
Remain self-aware. Take some time off when you notice you have gone through a continuous period of stress. You can schedule this in advance, say, every three months when you just shut down or get away from life’s hustles to destress. Do it proactively. You do not need to spend a lot of money. Emphasis not on enjoyment but on peace, tranquility, and reboot.
4. Remove yourself from stress-inducing sources and situations. Some examples of these are negative relationships or work environments, or even social media. Stay away from social media if it makes you depressed. Unnecessary anxieties may come from scrolling endlessly over happy faces and displays of wealth or success.
Even published struggles still appear glamorous because the medium is built to entertain. You’d almost envy folks for their romantic or sentimental ‘negatives’. It all leads to the same downward spiral. Do remember: Staying away from something is one side of it, you should consider embracing positive relationships and beneficial activities.
5. Get professional help as soon as possible. Talk to a therapist, counsellor, psychiatrist, doctor, or clergy. Some men may consider this a sign of weakness. No, it is wisdom. There are burdens you shouldn’t struggle endlessly over if you can get some help. Speak up, speak out; don’t think you can macho it out.
6. Stay away from recreational drugs and alcohol! There is an alarming increase in drug use among youth in Nigeria. Sometimes, people want to test these things because their friends are doing it or they may actually be trying to address a mental health issue.
Drugs may make you feel good for a time but the real problems will return or even become worse when the effects wear off. So you are left with more problems: an addiction to these substances, a drain on your useful energies and resources (your concentration on your studies or work, your money, your physical energy, and so on). Many men fall into this trap; seek help, leave aside your ego.
Do not medicate away your feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, or pain! Stay away from stimulants, depressants, opium-related painkillers, and hallucinogens. These substances will leave you in a worse state than the issue you were trying to resolve. It will only take you faster to the end. Seek professional help instead of this and the support of your family, friends, and community.
7. Take it easy on yourself. Manage your expectations. Do not be too hard on yourself. Learn to laugh at yourself. No condition is permanent. Place markers, reminders, and conspicuous signs to remind you to chill out in all your spaces.
Read or listen to books across genres – fantasies, historical fiction, biographies, memoirs, and so on. Check out good comedy performances, turn life’s hurts to laughs. Listen to music, to the radio. Build a new hobby, and you will even get more from these activities when you share them with loved ones. Believe in God’s power, the one greater than you to help you in all situations. And believe in yourself, too.
What can we do as a community to help one another?
Well, here are my thoughts. They are not any groundbreaking ideas or innovations on mental health or suicide prevention. They are things we will all benefit from when we pay more attention to them.
1. Let’s create more structured systems for promoting good mental health across all communities. Let’s create more awareness. I saw some media adverts before COVID hijacked all spaces. We can begin to do more now. Support groups or mental health clinics will also help us significantly. And of course accessible online resources will be a huge source of help, too.
2. Parents, clergy, doctors, teachers, and counselors should learn more about identifying and helping people to deal with mental health issues. We should also help remove the stigma associated with mental health challenges. People with mental health or emotional struggles are not mad people and have no reason to be ashamed.
3. Let’s be our brother’s keepers. This WHO interactive map shows that more men die by suicide than women almost across the world. In Nigeria, the data is close: For males – 17.5 suicides per 100,000 people; For females -17.1 per 100,000 people (compare the stats for other countries, e.g., Ghana in the interactive map).
Some obvious reasons come up to mind as it concerns men: men are groomed and expected to be strong, independent, and are slow to open up when it comes to their pain or pressures. How many times have you heard:
“Boys/men don’t cry…”
“You are a man o!”
When women receive energy from the community, men typically withdraw in pain. Let’s make it easy, or easier, for men to open up, seek help, lean on others for support without fear of embarrassment or ridicule.
4. Children should be guided to go easy on themselves regarding certain expectations, and we must also reduce or remove unnecessary pressure from them. I can tell you that most pressure exerted on children to perform is selfish. The deeper intent is usually to build up the parent’s pride, and not directly for the good of the child.
We must be more sensitive to identify the cues, warning signs, and indirect screams for help from vulnerable people and to seek ways to help without scaring them off or further alienating them. We can also help talented people learn to better manage their lives and responses to stress. We can curb the incidents of suicide and promote good mental health for Nigerians of all ages and gender as we love and support one another continually.