Curbing The Suicide Pandemic Among Teenagers

I remember the first suicide case I heard about. It was well over two decades ago. A man had attempted to hang himself on a ceiling fan, using a twine.

Growing debts, unemployment, poverty, lack of food and children being driven out of school for failure to pay their fees, were some of the reasons for his intended exit out of planet earth. A “nosy neighbour” had badged into his apartment after knocking for a couple of minutes, with no response from within.

Unfortunately, the suicide victims of this generation make no room for rescue. They calculate, plan and ensure that only their dead bodies are discovered.

He raised an alarm immediately and a crowd ensued. The victim was brought down by rescuers, seconds away from death. Amidst the wailing from loved ones, were others who shook their heads in total disbelief and disappointment. Some even hissed! This was a taboo that had never been once mentioned in the community.

Not until 12 years later, I heard of the next suicide attempt. A lady had attempted to hang herself after being dumped by her lover for whom she was pregnant.  Again, this lady was rescued.

Unfortunately, the suicide victims of this decade make no room for rescue. They calculate, plan and ensure that only their dead bodies are discovered.

Ironically too, suicide victims are less of frustrated fathers or jilted pregnant young individuals. They are youths, anywhere between 15 and 35, with a larger percentage among teenagers.

Lately, hardly a week goes by without the media talking about one or two youngsters who have swallowed “the deadly substance”. Death for these ones is a much better offer than life.

I have curiously followed suicide stories, imaginatively attempting to get inside the minds of these victims, in order to understand their personalities and temperaments. I have tried to figure out what they have in common, besides depression – a term that has been overused lately. What I have come to understand instead, is that the threshold and tolerance for psychological pain is largely shifting backwards.

The allowance for pain is getting thinner than it used to be, not because people are getting weaker, but simply more susceptible to pain.

I would like to think of a few reasons why this is happening, especially since only a few years ago, Nigerians were known to dub themselves with the title of “happiest people in the world”.

Where then did all the happiness go? What shifted in society?

For one, older generations need to realize that “Millennial” and “Generation Z” are totally different from previous generations. In our generation, we have witnessed not only the introduction but the fast rise of the internet, telecommunication and social media. Meaning, we have access to more information than our predecessors ever did.

We interact and connect with friends all over the world, we are aware of what stage the world is, in terms of inclusive growth and global competitive development. Therefore, we expect more of our societies, our leaders, our parents, even our clergies.

Young people are getting more disappointed with their immediate environment – school, families, and communities. While it is true that some people have ended their lives over reasons that cannot be attributed to anyone or anything in particular, like the late Chukwuemeka Akachi who called himself “the sin” and “the problem”, most others have taken the suicide route as a result of external triggers such as failure of exams, inability to graduate, difficulties to secure a good job, financial worries or heartbreak.

A young girl once committed suicide over the pressure she was getting at home; as she felt she would never be good enough.

As we all know, the family is the bedrock of society. Parents, siblings and loved ones generally need to pay more attention. We cannot wait until the government opens a centre where those who are depressed and contemplating suicide are admitted.

We need to play our own roles as brothers, sisters, fathers, and uncles in showing more love and support for these tender ones.

It is common to find most Nigerian teenagers not being able to open up to their parents about how they feel.

Firstly, because their parents may trivialize their concerns, telling them that whatever they are experiencing, others have experienced it in the past. Worse still, they may be upbraided for it.

A fifteen-year-old girl opens up and tells a typical Nigerian mom about her heartbreak ever since her crush began dating someone else, and you can imagine the tirade that will follow. But these are real issues bothering some of our young ones, and yet they cannot talk to anyone about it.

A young man is being delayed from graduating from the university, he talks to his dad who either blames him for his lack of seriousness or even compares him with others who have graduated from the same department.

Secondly, many young people are not expressing themselves, although we hypocritically ask them to, when they do, we do not proffer the solutions that they need.

Thirdly, some are fed up with poverty ravaging their family, if they dare to complain, we tag them as being greedy or covetous.  We make light of the things that are seemingly big to them or simply ask them to go and pray about them. Some people would rather talk to strangers who would listen to them, than to confide on those who are around them. Those who are around them already believe they understand them and there is no need for further communication.

Fourthly, teenagers are tender. They are not yet equipped with enough mental energy to handle psychological pressure, stress, emotional breakdowns and many of the other harsh circumstances the society is throwing them into. They are corruptible, easily influenced and would nine out of ten times prefer to take the supposed easy way out.

It behoves us as adults, guardians, parents, to literally hold their hands, if we may, and walk them through this complex journey of life, until they are strong enough to walk by themselves.

Finally, having looked at some of the causes of suicide among teenagers, I would recommend the following ways by which we can curb the pandemic.

  • Encourage teenagers to be more outspoken about their problems and seek help from family, friends, counsellors and relevant agencies.
  • Family members, relatives and friends should be more observant. Identify changes in behaviours of these young ones, note those who have become withdrawn and introverted in recent times.
  • Older folks should be more supportive, listen without criticizing, and provide moral and financial assistance where they can.
  • Schools, right from the secondary level should make provisions for counsellors and psychologists. Some may prefer to talk to a counsellor instead of a parent.
  • Government should initiate programs and forums for empowering these youths and giving them a voice in society.

Princess Golley is a licensed Human Resource Administrator and a practicing administrator with over 6 years of experience. She wrote in from Canada.

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