How do you convince a government to declare a state of emergency on the increasing rate of suicide? Specifically, how do you convince the Nigerian government – whose antecedents with disregard for the lives of law-abiding citizens is a stuff of legend, to care enough about the increasing desperation that could be the cause of Nigeria’s rising suicide profile?
For years, non-governmental organisations in the mental and emotional health space have been raising alarm over the rising cases of suicide in Nigeria. Add to that the overwhelming paucity of mental health professionals in the country of over 200 million people and you have a health crisis.
Nigeria, as of May 2019, was home to about 250 registered psychiatrists. By contrast, around the same time, an estimated 20% – 30% of Nigerians were living with mental illness – a whopping 40+ million people. It can be easily argued that what is happening now is the result of negligence in the face of a crisis that dates years.
While there hasn’t been any official record so far of the number of suicides in the country since the year 2021 began, the news is chockful of reports of deaths by suicide, giving credence to the alarm raised by Suicide Research and Prevention Initiative (SURPIN) about the country’s rising suicide rate.
SURPIN, a suicide prevention non-governmental organisation, lamented the rising cases of suicide across the country especially among younger people who are the backbone of the economy.
The economic framing that SURPIN chose to work with is commendable, if the Nigerian governments cares a lick about the economic contribution of its citizenry beyond maintaining an exterior presentation of what it means to be a nation-state, hence keeping the door open for international donors and ‘investors’ to stay in business with the ruling elite.
The call to action on suicide prevention can however not rely on this, because no one who understands the working of the Nigerian government will bank on its concern about the impact of suicide on the Nigerian economy that has been running on vibes and In Shaa Allah for decades.
The prompting that the Nigerian ruling elite needs – if they are to even remotely consider getting serious about the mental illness crisis in the country – is one that draws the attention of partners and donors to how neglectful they are being about a human right issue.
Mental health – as with all things health-related, is a human right issue. Nigerians do not have to be economically productive to deserve access to mental health support, and the Nigerian government cannot only declare a state of emergency on the country’s mental illness crisis based solely on concerns about its implication on the country’s economy.
There is a crisis of health – mental health in this case – in the country, and the Nigerian government is obligated by virtue of its responsibility to its citizens to do something to address it. That’s it. No words minced.