[Opinion]: The Worrying Phenomenon of Suicide Cases in Ghana
Suicide in Ghana has become a growing public health problem as the number of cases keeps increasing each year. Suicidal behaviour is a complex one and may be difficult to explain why someone engages in the act.
Research into this behaviour in Ghana, however, continues to show various psychosocial reasons and in some cases mental illnesses which are strongly associated with these behaviours especially among the youth.
These include neglect, use of illicit drugs, conflicting relationships with parents, romantic crisis, academic/education stress, bullying in schools, financial difficulties, sexual and physical abuse, depression, loss of jobs, unemployment.
The recent spate of suicides among Ghanaians in my view can be similar to the COVID-19 crisis that is ravaging the world of which Ghana is of no exception, a situation which has become epidemic following reported cases on a daily basis including the recent cases involving some members of the Ghana Police Service.
With suicide and attempted suicide being a major public health challenge, the World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that approximately one million people attempt suicide every year. This represents one death every minute, almost 3,000 deaths every day, and one suicide attempt every three seconds.
More people die from suicide than from armed conflict and, in many places, from traffic accidents.
Suicide is recognized as an important public health problem and a major source of preventable deaths worldwide. For every person who commits suicide, there are 20 or more who will attempt suicide. The emotional impact for family and friends affected by completed or attempted suicide may last for many years
In many countries, suicide is one of the top three causes of death among adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 years, and one of the top ten causes of death overall. In 2015, deaths due to suicides was ranked 17th leading cause of death worldwide.
Though attempted suicide is still considered a crime in Ghana as The Criminal Code of Ghana (Act 29 of Ghana, Section 57; Subsection II, 1960) provides that “whoever attempts to commit suicide shall be guilty of a misdemeanour,” about 30 cases of suicide were reported in 2017. A person therefore who attempts suicide is subject to arrest and prosecution and is made to face criminal sanctions upon conviction.
Alleged Suicide Case in Ghana Police Service
The Ghana Police Service has not been spared as from the beginning of the year 2021, three Police Officers have allegedly committed the suicide act by shooting themselves with the rifles they were officially issued with.
On January 30, 2020, a District Police Commander, Superintendent of Police allegedly died in circumstances suspected to be a suicide. Then, barely had investigation started into the death of the District Police Commander than news of the death of another police officer broke in less than 24 hours in Accra. He was alleged to have shot himself.
Even before investigations into the two earlier cases could be concluded and the causes of deaths ascertained and shared with the public, another senior police officer allegedly reported having committed suicide in Tema.
Indeed, losing three Police Officers within three weeks which is not COVID-19 related but suspected suicide demands some urgency into investigations into those deaths and possible remedies found to the situation.
But what could have been the reasons for the suicides by the Police Officers? Most cases of suicides, in general, can be attributed to marital or relationship problems and family problems, mental disorders, financial problems, loss of loved ones, loss of a job, or anticipation of a disgraceful act.
Stressful behaviours and situations such as extreme depression, feeling of hopelessness, fear, regrets, perfectionism, traumatic experiences, sexual abuse, bullying, unemployment, and alcohol abuse can be cited as some causes of suicide.
As a serious public health problem and with the rise in suicides among Service Men, the Ghana Police Service has onerous duty to quickly look into possible causes of suicide among its officers. The cases also demand attention through their prevention and control, unfortunately, are no easy task.
The high stress of police work generally in my view can be cited as a primary contributing factor. The constant barrage of stressors inherent with danger, and for police managers, the pressures of administration, can overwhelm even the strongest person. When officers lose the ability to cope in normal ways, they may turn to an ultimate solution to relieve the pressures of stress.
As encouraged by a WHO 2014 Report, the high premium must be placed on suicide prevention irrespective of a country’s current position in terms of suicide rate or suicide prevention activities; and in Africa for that matter Ghana, there is an urgent need to prioritize suicide prevention.
One solution to the suicide cases in the Police Service is by attending to two significant issues bothering on welfare and psychological support for officers which the Inspector General of the Ghana Police and the top hierarchy of the service must not take lightly at all.
We cannot ignore the seriousness of stress management among law enforcement agencies because they are sometimes armed. When they suffer a cognitive crisis, armed officers could turn their arms on their colleagues or even family or on themselves as it happened to the three Police Officers.
What we need to remind ourselves of is that any case of suicide that we see in society is a cry for help from that person where we have failed to heed that cry. And it is our failure to heed that cry for help that could result in a person committing suicide.
Suicide leaves survivors shaken and in search of answers that may never be found. Police suicide can devastate the morale of the entire agency and leave individual officers with intense feelings of guilt, remorse, and disillusionment.
By its very nature, suicide is an act of desperation, carried out when less drastic avenues of relief seem unavailable or inadequate. Police agencies should ensure that these other avenues are available.
As suggested by Rev. Albright Asiwome Banibensu, a licensed Psychologist. the Ghana Police Service (GPS) should use psychosocial interventions as a crucial component to meet the overall health needs of personnel.
This, he said, would require that the Police Service employ more mental health professionals such as Counselling Psychologists, Clinical Psychologists, Psychiatrists, among others to meet such needs. Psychosocial interventions refer to any intervention that emphasises psychological, behavioural, or social factors rather than biological factors, such as pharmacotherapy.
Role of the Media
As a media person, I appreciate the readiness of the Ghanaian media in publicising suicide stories and seeking professional commentaries on these behaviours anytime such an incident occurs. The intentions and motivations may be noble in seeking to educate the public about these behaviours.
However, the manner in which some of these stories are published may create further problems. Particularly, mentally distressed persons in society may simply copy the behaviour of troubled people in the suicide stories. There may be several psychosocial conditions prevailing now which are making people suicidal.
In my view, the media have a role to play in controlling the menace and have to tone down the attention on suicide cases. Regular reports on the subject in a way make it appear attractive to suspects. There is the need to provide the option to say when someone is at that point how do we save them. Hospital and nursing staff as well as people must be trained to identify the signs and symptoms and, importantly, to prevent or to stop that person from actually going ahead.
I think if a hold is put on detailed reportage on suicide, it would help because as it is currently being reported and the way it is being done, it can make it attractive to others. Some people may not have considered that option but because it is being reported so regularly, others are trying.
Uncensored published stories of how some people planned and killed themselves (and perhaps the note some might leave behind) may simply help those on the verge of suicide, to consider ending their lives as well. This is called ‘copycat suicides.
The media’s role in suicide prevention is thus crucial and should be carefully guided by professionals working in this area of mental health.
With the increase of suicides, we indeed as a nation have a crisis on our hands. This is similar, in public health terms, to what would have happened in the situation of COVID-19, Ebola and cholera, because people are dying. This is an epidemic – people are killing themselves every single day and this is even what is reported in the media, how much more what has not been reported in the media.
Need for Family Relations
The increasing rate of suicide in the country cannot be solved with only prayers but through strong family relations.
Strong family relations will provide opportunities for children to share their problems with their family and seek advice or encouragement from them to ease of the pain which people who commit suicide do not have.
We have to diffuse our minds from an erroneous impression that the recent escalating rate of suicide cases in the country is spiritual. In my view, there is no iota of spiritualism in the situation we find ourselves in, rather it is as a result of how far we have neglected our way of life in the name of civilization and modernization, which now portrays our traditional way of living as barbaric.
In most families, when they were brought up by parents, they all ate from one bowl, slept on one bed not because people were poor, but to create some family bonding and love. The importance of this bonding is what made children share their problems together for solutions, unlike today in a home of two children [where] every child has his cup, bed, plate, etc. They virtually do nothing together, therefore, they don’t have that bonding to share their problems, therefore, the many suicide cases we are witnessing. Many of the cases are as a result of some challenges facing the victim, which he couldn’t share with anybody.
As part of the solution to this suicide menace, we need to go back to our original way of life to avert these calamities and stop spiritualizing it because no prayer can avert it.
Also, there is an urgent need to establish a support system that will help these people in their times of need and in their times of vulnerability.
By Damian Avevor// newswatchgh.com