Key words: Suicide, Nigerians, risk factors, suicide epicenter.

Suicide: What Puts Nigerians At Risk. What factors in Nigeria can predispose or cause someone to want to take his or her life?

The act of Suicide is actually a voluntary act of killing oneself intentionally. Most often it is a planned act, but on some occasions it is done impulsively.

Nigeria in 2016 was the epicenter for suicide in Africa as reported by the World Health Organization in 2019.  Are there factors that could have brought this about? At this time, Nigeria was the sixth in global prevalence for suicide.

What factors make suicide more likely in Nigeria?

Suicide is actually a global health issue. Over the years living in Nigeria has gotten tough, and some people see suicide as a means of escape. Suicide is not caused by only one factor. It is due to a combination of factors. But it is important to know that suicidal behaviours are due to biological, psychological and social factors.

  1. Biological factors.

a. Genetic factors:

  • Suicide runs in the family. A family history of suicide, increases the risk of dying by suicide.

b. Neurotransmitters, hormones and physical brain abnormalities.

  • In the brain of those who have died by suicide, or who have attempted suicide neurotransmitters are low.
  • There are reduced levels of serotonin, as well as altered norepinephrine.
  • Some areas of the brain has abnormalities, such as the hypothalamic pituitary axis.
  • Stress can increase the level of cortisone.

c. Trauma to the brain.

  • Although it is rare, some people who have suffered traumatic brain injury are at risk of suicide. This risk of suicide increases by 3 times within the first 6 months of the injury. And remains high even after the 6 months.

d. Other biological factors.

  • These include chronic physical illness such as cancers, diabetes, cardiac conditions, chronic pain, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, sickle cell disease, etc. For example, there has been an increase in prevalence of diabetes in Nigeria over the years.
  • Physical challenges can also predispose one to take one’s life.

2. Psychological factors.

  • It is important to know that 90% 0f those who die by suicide have mental health conditions.
  • About 60% to 70% of those with mental illness who die by suicide have mood disorders, such as depressive disorders, bipolar disorders and anxiety disorders. It is documented that about 25% to 50% those who have bipolar depression attempt suicide at least once. While those with depressive disorders have 20 times the risk of dying by suicide.
  • Also 10% of those who die by suicide have schizophrenia.
  • Even those with personality disorders are at risk of suicide. Those with borderline personality disorder attempt suicide at least once in their life time, according to research.
  • Substance use disorder is also a risk factor. The burden of substance abuse in Nigeria is very high. These include those that abuse substances such as alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, etc. Those who abuse substances are 6 times more likely to die by suicide than those who do not abuse substance. Among farmers in Delta state who attempted or died by suicide, 92.3% of them abused alcohol in one study. Those who abused other substances were 37.9%. 

3. Social factors.

a. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

  • Some children who attempt or die by suicide come from dysfunctional homes. Here they are faced with abuses such as physical, psychological, or sexual abuses. Some of them could also have been neglected.
  • They could also have witnessed intimate partner violence among their parents, parental separation or divorce, and even parental death. Children whose parent(s) are in prison are also at risk of suicide. And those separated from their biological mother for long periods are risk, especially those who are given out as domestic servants.
  • Children whose parents abuse substance like alcohol, etc. are also at risk.
  • Some have witnessed community violence. Children who have witnessed insurgency from Boko Haram, herders/farmers are at risk. Some have witnessed shootings on the streets, especially during riots and protests.
  • The issues of ACEs are still on the increase in Nigeria.

b. Academic issues.

  • People who have had past or present academic problems are at risk. This could include poor academic performances, or not being able to get into a tertiary institution. Also not being able to study the course of interest could be a factor.
  • Even having problems with school peers and teachers can be contributory factors.

c. Relationship issues.

  • Those who have experienced relationship breakups are at risk, especially those due to unwanted pregnancies. And those couples whose parents have refused their relationships are at risk of suicide.
  • Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is a risk factor for suicide. The prevalence of IPV is quite high in Nigeria.
  • Loss from any cause, like death of a loved one. Some are due to divorce.  
  • Those who are married are more likely to be suicidal than the unmarried, divorced or separated in Nigeria. But in other parts of the world, those who are single, separated or divorced are more at risk. This does not mean that those who are single, separated or divorced do not die from suicide in Nigeria.

d. Loneliness.

  • Being lonely or being left alone is a risk factor. This will also affect the elderly in our society. Their adult children will leave them unattended to in the village while they migrate to the cities in search of money. There is an increase of rural to urban migration in Nigeria. And also brain drain issues in the country.
  • Having no close friends leads to loneliness.
  • Those who are stigmatized in the society for any reason are at risk of suicide. These include the mentally ill, among those who practice the cast system, etc.

e. Social class, area of residence.

  • Suicide is more in the middle and lower social class in Nigeria.
  • In Nigeria, living in semi urban area is a risk factor to suicide. In one study, 40.3% of suicide cases were seen among those in semi urban areas. The same study, showed 39.7% were among those living in urban areas. While only 20% was among those in the rural areas.

4. Economic factors.

  • Many Nigerians are turning to suicide as a means of escape from their problems.
  • Those undergoing financial difficulties are at risk of suicide.
  • This affects the unemployed and the under employed.
  • Those stressed from over work or the natures of their work are at risk. Many doctors in Nigeria are overworked and under paid. Some are made to work for 72 hours, i.e. 3 days in a stretch. In some states, doctors are owed many months or years of unpaid salaries.
  • Some have lost their jobs, especially during recessions and the COVID 19 scourge.  As at 2017, over 8000 bank staff lost their jobs.

5. Media reporting on suicide puts Nigerians at risk.

  • Unfortunately, many Nigerian media outlets, do not report suicide responsibly. This includes the electronic, print and social media.
  • They often show the gruesome act, the methods used, etc.
  • Many make it their headline reports.
  • Those in the acting profession even show the means step by step.

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