LEADING media professionals and health experts have said that responsible reporting can reduce the suicide rate and mitigate its effects on families and society.
They also warned the public against stigmatising the families who lost relations to suicide and people who attempted the act.
The experts gave the counsels on Friday at a webinar to commemorate the 2021 World Suicide Prevention Day with the theme: ‘Creating Hope Through Action.’
The webinar was tagged: ‘Suicide Reporting, the Social Responsibility Imperative.’
The webinar had the support of a coalition of stakeholders, including Suicide Is No Solution (SINS), Asido Foundation, Crime Reporters Association of Nigeria (CRAN), Lagos Online Media Publishers Association (LASOMP), and Spirit of Nigeria Radio, among others.
In his address, Founder of ASIDO Foundation Jubril Abdulmalik urged media organisations to avoid using the phrase ‘commit suicide’ on headlines and avoid giving prominence to suicide reports.
Chairperson of the Nigerian Association of Women Journalists, Oyo State, JadesolaAjibola said stigmatisation and belief that suicide was a taboo were major challenges the country faced over suicide.
She added that journalists had the responsibility to enlighten the public on the need to avoid both suicide and stigmatisation against it.
However, she called for the training of journalists to enable them to educate the public from the point of knowledge of suicide.
Similarly, Treasurer of LASOMP Lateef Owodunmi urged media practitioners to adopt expressions such as ‘death by suicide’ instead of ‘committed suicide.’
“The way we interpret those things can lead to stigma and affect the family of a person who died by suicide,” he said.
He advised journalists to also focus on educating the public to seek help on avoiding suicide rather than focus on the act that had already been committed.
According to him, media organisations should present mental illness the same way they reported other diseases.
“That is by presenting factual information, including the cause, prevention and treatment.”
He added that journalists must be compassionate towards readers or listeners, providing stories of hope and recovery and information on how to overcome suicidal thoughts.
Clinical Psychologist Folawaye Kareem said responsible reporting could prevent suicide.
According to him, “It is still quite alarming that a lot of media houses are still not getting it right when it comes to responsible reporting on suicide.”
He also blamed social media platforms for promoting inappropriate reports on suicide.
Project Director of SINS Toye Arulogun also appealed to media practitioners to avoid speculations or giving explicit descriptions that could aggravate suicide cases.
Arulogun advised journalists to always include relevant data and comments from mental health experts in their suicide reports.
Meanwhile, Nigeria recorded more suicide bombing incidents than other forms of suicide between 2010 and 2020, Consultant Psychiatrist at the University of Jos Teaching Hospital Moses Audu said at the meeting.
Audu, a professor, said his team undertook a study on suicide following increasing cases of the act by prominent people in Jos and other parts of the country.
He said out of 800 reports studied, his team identified 343 separate incidents.
He said most cases were suicide bombing in the North-East, and 70 per cent of people who engaged in the act were men.
Audu noted that other cases in the study were mainly hanging and poisoning.
He said there was a sharp increase in suicide between 2010 and 2012, and the frequency declined in 2016, “rose again gradually and then went down in 2020.”
Nigeria’s North-East has faced insurgency for nearly 12 years. At least 350,000 people have died from the conflict, including millions of others who were displaced. The crisis has also consumed several communities in the region.
Audu listed the causes of suicide in the country to include bombers’ belief that God would reward them for killing non-adherents to their beliefs, drug abuse, depression, financial difficulty, marital difficulty or relationship problems, joblessness and hopelessness, among others.
Fielding questions from participants, Abdulmalik (Founder, ASIDO Foundation) said people who dressed well could be suffering from mental health challenges that would lead them to commit suicide.
According to him, depression was the most important reason people committed suicide.
“Suicide is simply the intentional taking of one’s own life,” he said.
He said, “every suicide is tragic and affects families and communities.”
Following increasing cases of suicide worldwide, the World Health Organization (WHO) had, in 2012, declared it as a public health emergency, he said.
He further explained the number of people attempting suicide was 20 times more than those who successfully executed it.
He said Nigeria and the rest of Africa lacked data on suicide, making WHO’s estimate of 20 million attempting suicide on the continent yearly low.
He added that suicides “are preventable,” and responsible reporting could reduce the rate of suicide.
Abdulmalik urged anyone contemplating suicide to seek professional help.
Cases of suicide unrelated to bombing peaked in Nigeria in 2019 as many people used insecticides, mainly sniper, to commit the act.
The National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) banned many agrochemical products produced in small quantities to discourage people with suicidal thoughts from executing the act.
Nigerian laws criminalise suicide, and persons who attempt suicide are liable to a one-year jail term.
The ICIR reported in 2019 that WHO ranked Nigeria as the country with the highest cases of suicide in Africa and sixth globally.
In its recent report on suicide – Suicide Worldwide in 2019 – the WHO said suicide remained one of the leading causes of death globally.
“Every year, more people die from suicide than HIV, malaria or breast cancer or war and homicide. In 2019, more than 700,000 people died by suicide: one in every 100 deaths, prompting WHO to produce new guidance to help countries improve suicide prevention and care.”