Urgent need for suicide prevention in Ghana
Although there are no credible national statistics on suicidal behaviour in Ghana, there are indications that suicide is gradually becoming a public health problem in the country. In recent times, there have been numerous media reports on suicide in Ghana. In as much as these reports may not be as credible as those from coroners, they point to the urgent need for preventive measures, public education and debate on the risk factors for suicide. We know that people from all walks of life have succeeded in taking their own lives: children and adults, the old and young, the religious and the irreligious, the educated and non-educated, etc.
Our heart-felt condolences go to the families that have lost a member through suicide. It is a long road to recovery for them and we believe healing is expedited with help from psychologists and counsellors who are available through the Ministry of Health and trained counsellors in many churches, as well as among Religious leaders of various faiths. It is important to share the pain with those persons to facilitate their healing. For those who have attempted suicide or are contemplating it, we also urgently encourage them to seek help as above.
In interviews with affected persons in Ghana, we have learned that reasons for suicide include crisis in romantic relationships (mostly observed in young and adult women), financial crisis (mostly observed in adult men), sexual abuse and forced marriages (mostly observed in young women), shame (mostly observed in adult men), and school underachievement (mostly observed in students). We also believe that the use of alcohol and other mind- altering drugs such as cannabis (wee), cocaine, heroine, etc., facilitates suicidality. Research evidence is almost converging on the general fact that suicidal behaviour in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMIC) including Ghana is more psychosocial than psychiatric.
Furthermore, we do not rule out other potential psychiatric related causes such as depression and abuse of substances which may lead to suicidal behaviour in Ghana. This is because there is evidence of psychological distress in the country. In a nation-wide survey in Ghana, 21% of respondents reported feeling moderate to high levels of psychological distress. Further, a WHO situational analysis of mental illness in Ghana reported that 650,000 people living in Ghana are suffering from a severe mental disorder and a further 2,166, 000 are suffering from a moderate to mild mental disorder. It is however important to emphasize here that there is no strong evidence that all those who kill themselves suffer from a psychiatric illness.
The important news is that although suicide is not always predictable, it is a preventable public health problem. It is important therefore if we pick up warning signs early enough, and the general public can play a useful role in this regard if they know how to identify warning signs for suicidal crisis, from what people say, do or feel as listed below, and refer them to appropriate areas for support.
What people who are suicidal may say
• Better to die than suffer shame (f?re? fa nyinam owuo)
• I am about to embark on a long journey where people may not see me
• I don’t feel I have any good reason to live
• I wish I am dead
• My pain is too much to bear now
• I wish or I am praying to God to take my life
What people who are suicidal may do
• Increased use of alcohol or other substances such as weed, cannabis
• Acting recklessly and aggressively
• Looking for methods e.g., weapons to kill themselves
• Loss of interest from activities
• Isolating from friends & families
• Calling people or visiting them to say goodbye
Moods suicidal persons may show
• Loss of interest
The Ghana Psychological Association calls on government to expunge the law that criminalizes attempted suicide in Ghana and rather put in place a national framework for suicide prevention in the country. We further call on the various media houses to be circumspect in the publication of suicide stories and pictures since they may lead to copycat suicide among vulnerable persons. The general public should be supportive and encourage, support and refer to mental health centres for professional attention. To anybody who is presently experiencing crisis in any area of life and contemplating suicide, we advise that you rather seek support and help from qualified mental health practitioners such as psychologists, psychiatrists and counsellors. Please tell a friend, family member or church member and ask them to stay with you until the urge has passed. Get help. Suicide prevention is everyone’s business! You can also call the numbers below for help.
Dr. Kingsley Nyarko
Public Relations Officer (GPA)
Dr. Joseph Osafo (Suicide Expert): 0207373222/0244296435
Professor Angela Ofori-Atta: emai: firstname.lastname@example.org; whatsapp: 0202015050
Dr. Kingsley Nyarko: 0548006675