Suicide, a health issue not a crime- Experts  

  • As book on suicide reporting guideline debuts

Although suicide is a global public health problem but an observation from the content analysis of newspapers has revealed that Nigeria is one of the epicentres of suicide in the world.

Despite the damning report, there appears to be a dearth of research, adequate reports exploring the epidemiological aspects of suicide in Nigeria.

 Interestingly, this and many more maybe some of the major reasons, a non-profit organisation, Nous Foundation Nigeria, in collaboration with the Health Writers Association of Nigeria, HEWAN, over the weekend, launched a book titled: “The Morning After”

 Speaking at the virtual launch, experts from the medical field and media said the book will serve as an important tool in reducing the rate of suicide in Nigeria, Africa and the international world through appropriate media reportage.

 The book reviewer, the Former Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Ministry of Health, Dr. Femi Olugbile, said concerns are more on the mainstream media and citizen reporters on how they report issues surrounding suicide without consideration on the implications to the families and society.

 He said media reports are done without any form of sympathy for the parties concerned who are severely traumatised by the incident, as all the journalists seek is the hunt for news.

 He said the nine-chapter book dealt with suicide and its attempts as a medical condition, noting that majority of the people who have committed suicide had a diagnosable psychiatric error.

Olugbile said the book also touched on matters of the law, which recognises suicide as a criminal offense rather than a medical condition, in which those who attempt suicide and were not successful are handed over to the police and immediately charge to the magistrate court for a criminal offense.

 The reviewer lamented that the media also helps portray suicide to the public attention as a criminal offense rather than a health issue that requires urgent attention.

 He said all these issues unveiled by the book are why it is important for every journalist to have a copy to have knowledge on appropriate reportage of suicide cases in the country.

 Olugbile said: “The people who are the bridge between the subject and the society need to be knowledgeable to become appropriate vehicles of helping to manage the causes of suicide and helping to keep to the barest minimum by cultivating empathy. It is not about writing sensational headlines but we need to think deep on effect on the deceased family. Articles should be directional by educating the public what they need to do when feeling awkward, which is part of the preventive strategies instead of glamourising suicide.”

 Speaking with the authors, Dr. Olufemi Oluwatayo said the book is a reflection on how the media report suicide cases in the country, without considering the immediate and long-term effect on the family of the deceased and the economy.

He said the book contains a lot of research evidences from the World Health Organisation and studies from Nigeria.

 

Oluwatayo lamented that while international communities have policy data on suicide, Nigeria is yet to develop one, adding that one of the ways data was gathered in the book was through interviews with families of suicide victims.

 He said the book is written by experts in various fields, which include a journalist and psychiatrist, adding that recommendations have been made on how suicide should be perceived and reported in Nigeria and globally.

 Also, the Co-author, Martins Ifijeh, said the book was written to bring to the fore the WHO guidelines for suicide reporting, which journalists have not explored in their reporting of suicide cases in Africa and Nigeria in particular.

 He noted that while about 264 suicide cases have been reported in the media from January 2017 till date, none of the WHO guidelines were reflected in the reports.

 Ifijeh noted that the guidelines were developed in order for journalists not to fuel suicide in their specific reporting styles.

 He said the second reason for writing the book was for the obsolete  mental law in Nigeria, which criminalised suicide, adding that suicide is a health issue that should be reported from the health angle rather than reporting from the police angle.

 On why the book is a must-read and a tool all journalists must have, Ifijeh said the book will serve as a guide to enable journalists to report suicide cases appropriately, as most of the reports done have fuelled more suicide cases and left the families and economy in a state of mess.

 He said the book will also enable policymakers to pass the mental health bill into law to help save more lives.

 Also speaking, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, 8th National Assembly, Lanre Tejuosho, said the book would be vital in amending the mental health bill, adding that the 264 victims of suicide are a fraction of the actual number of the underreported cases of Nigerians who committed suicide in the last four years.

He also cautioned the media not to trigger more cases of suicide in the country as its effect is detrimental to the families of the victims and the economy at large.

 The President, HEWAN, Mrs. Chioma Obinna, agreed that the wrong media reportage of suicide cases have led to the surge of cases in the country.

 She said while the media is meant to play a critical role in educating the public on mental illness, lack of training journalists on effective reportage has also been a challenge.

 Obinna said: “When suicide is inappropriately reported, it fuels stigma. From the book, we have been made to understand that when you use the word ‘commit’ it is tagging suicide as a crime and not a health condition. Another thing to be highlighted is that suicide cases are reported by crime reporters, which should be done by health reporters, which is also a huge problem,” she said.

She noted that while the WHO stated that responsible reportage of suicide reduces suicidal behaviours in the society; the media tends to sensational the headlines, with the use of the wrong language.

In his view, the Chairman Editorial Board, Thisday, Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi, who is a co-book reviewer of the book commended the authors for writing the book at a time when the cases of suicide are increasing in the country, especially among youths.

He said many of the suicide victims go through challenges, which they keep to themselves, especially with the way society sees those with mental issues.

Adeniyi added that suicide and mental issues should be seen as medical conditions, which requires urgent medical attention and not as a crime, adding that the book is a must-read for a society like ours.

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