The Suicide Galore
Stanley (not real name) was barely 18 years old when he started brooding over the thought of taking his own life.
After completing his Senior High School education in Accra, Stanley had to return to his village in the Northern Region because his father was scarcely able to provide for the needs of the family after his mother’s death.
Stanley says despite his good intentions to help his father care for the family, his father never saw anything good about him.
He says his father constantly attacked his character, insulted, mocked and cursed him, and when he couldn’t take it any longer, he decided to take his life to avoid the unending taunting of his frustrated father.
“I felt so bad to be insulted by the man who brought me to life,” Stanley reminisces. “But when my father said he never wished I was born, I concluded that there was no need to live.”
But for the timely intervention of his siblings who came to his rescue, Stanley would have taken his life to escape his nagging father.
But hundreds of Ghanaians are not that lucky. They don’t get to be stopped before they swallow poison, tie the noose on their necks, pull the trigger or jump off a storey building.
Suicide is increasing on a daily basis, with five or more people in Ghana taking their lives for reasons that are very flimsy and some that are heartbreaking.
Edward Obeng Kwakye, the President of Obeng Kwakye Foundation, a non-governmental group involved in suicide prevention and anti-abortion campaign, says the foundation receives between five to ten calls daily on its suicide hotline.
“Most of the callers complain of difficulties in their families while others complain of inability to attain their life’s dreams,” he says.
He also notes that the group has, during the year, prevented seven callers from taking their lives. Kwakye says the foundation receives more calls from women than men.
Unsubstantiated data by the Network for Anti-Suicide and Crisis Prevention indicate that about 1,556 persons committed suicide in Ghana during the year.
Out of the number, 431 came from Greater Accra Region, 276 from the Northern Region, 132 from Ashanti Region, 118 from Upper West Region, and 114 from Brong Ahafo Region.
Upper East Region recorded 102 cases, Western Region had 102 cases, Eastern Region had 98 cases, and Volta Region had 97 cases while the Central Region saw 86 cases.
The startling statistics also indicate that the category of persons between the ages of 20 and 35 years had the highest number of suicide cases of 702, with some of their main reasons for committing the act being attributed to love relationship problems and poverty.
The category of people between the ages of nine and 19 years recorded 531 suicide deaths, with the dominant cause of their death being problems with parents, failure at school, inability of parents to provide their needs and love relationship problems amongst others.
Three-hundred-and-twenty-three suicide cases were also recorded in the category of persons of 35 years and above, with cases being traced to issues of poverty and impotence.
The media have been inundated with virtually daily reports of people who succumb to the temptation to end their lives in very painful and miserable ways.
People from all strata of society are reported to have committed suicide in the last few weeks.
Early this month, residents of Sofo Zongo in Kwesimintsim near Takoradi in the Western Region wept uncontrollably when news reached them that Abu Imma, a 30-year-old petty trader and a Burkinabe national, had committed suicide in her husband’s room.
The woman woke up hale and hearty undertaking house chores with her children in the morning before excusing herself to hang herself in the room.
Mohammed Iddrisu, the Municipal Commander of the Police Motor Traffic and Transport Unit (MTTU) in Techiman, was reported to have committed suicide. Iddrisu, an Assistant Superintendent of Police, hanged himself inside his home while his wife went to drop his children in school. He left no suicide note.
Another bizarre suicide was that of the Head Pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church at Kwadaso Nzema in Kumasi, Rev Nicholas Opoku-Agyemang, who was reported to have committed suicide by shooting himself dead in the darkness of his room.
Rev Opoku Agyemang was said to have locked himself in the room before committing the act on July 26, 2010.
Joyce Amuzu, an 18 year-old resident of Mampong in the Eastern Region, took her life during the year. Similarly, a seven year-old boy, Nii Armah Tagoe, reportedly committed suicide at Asuoyeboah RTT, a community in Suntreso, Ashanti Region. Tagoe was said to have taken his life because his father asked him to allow his brother to use the toilet first. He found that very unbearable.
Twenty-six year-old Prosper Karikari also took his life after two unsuccessful attempts. Karikari, who operated a popular bar, the ‘Thunder Pub’ in Kumasi, was said to have taken his life after his father scolded him for assaulting an innocent woman.
A seasoned Ambassador and diplomat in residence at the Legon Centre for International Affairs and Diplomacy, (LECIAD), University of Ghana, Clarus Kobina Sakyi, also jumped from the Trust Towers and terminated his life in a most bizarre way.
He was at the university in the early hours of the day he took his life, but didn’t show any sign of withdrawal or depression.
Acting Director of the centre, Dr. Vladimir Antwi-Danso, who worked very closely with the diplomat, says nothing suggested that the deceased could hurt himself under any guise.
Speaking on the life of the deceased diplomat, Dr. Antwi-Danso notes, “He was always looking good, he was always smiling and on the day he took his life, he never showed an iota of depression. So if anybody said that he was depressed it is not true. There was nothing to show that he was deteriorating. There was nothing to show that he was secluded. There were no symptoms that could have informed us that something was wrong.”
Dr. Worlasi Achondo, a medical assistant at the Accra Psychiatric Hospital (APH), blames the problem on the socio-economic crisis in the country. He listed some of the reasons people commit suicide to include depression, feelings of unworthiness, abject poverty, marital crisis and serious family problems.
He says suicidal tendencies are common in depression, “so most of the depressed cases we have here have all got suicidal tendencies”.
Dr. Akwasi Osei, Chief Psychiatrist at the Ministry of Health and Medical Director at the APH, in an article published in the Daily Graphic, attributed the high rate of suicide cases in the country to the breakdown of societal norms which sustained the society and helped members to deal with stresses, tensions and crises, although he acknowledges that there are financial, political and social stress.
“Those traditions are fast breaking down and we are not as quickly replacing them with structures of modern society like counseling facilities to help people out of their dilemma,” an excerpt of the publication notes.
Dr. Achondo explains that persons who are inclined to committing suicide have poor sleep, suffer severe and persistent headache, withdraw from people, and manifest activity retardation including negligence of personal hygiene and lack of appetite.
“Family members should report either to a psychologist or a psychiatrist when their relations manifest any of these behaviours,” he advises.
Bishop J.Y. Adu, the founder of New Jerusalem Chapel located near Kumasi, insists that there is a spiritual dimension to the regretful situation, when asked why many people now contemplate suicide among all the options for resolving problems.
“Ghanaians are notoriously religious and one would have expected us to try solving our problems from the spiritual point of view,” the clergyman suggests. He, however, calls for the convocation of a national prayer for God’s intervention in the problem.
However, Dr Osei disagrees: “Did you hear the story of one party visiting a juju man to bury 15 live cows and the ensuing deaths being the effects of the juju backfiring? Let us develop the culture of finding scientific explanation to problems rather than parrying them through politicization and spiritualization”.
“Ghana is under no spiritual siege and there is nothing political in this. What is happening in my humble opinion is a mixture of three related things, first is what I describe the social fracture a breakdown of our societal values and norms”, he says.
Dr. Charity Akotia, a Social/Community Psychologist at the Department of Psychology, University of Ghana, says religion should not be a substitute for solving the issue of suicide but rather work alongside professional treatment.
“If you see a mental health professional, and alongside you see someone with your faith, I think that will work,” she says.
Dr. David Brent, a Psychiatrist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, says, “A first-degree relative – a parent, sibling or child – of a person who has committed suicide is four to six times more likely to attempt or complete suicide.”
Dr. Akotia says existing statistics on suicide in Ghana are unreliable. While insisting that cases of suicide are highly under-reported due to associated stigma, she cautions the media to be wary of presenting reports on suicide in ways that tend to glorify the action. She says, “We would like to see a national coordinating body that oversees everything about suicide and suicide prevention in Ghana.”
She also advocates the repeal of Section 57, Clause 2 of the 1960 Criminal Code of Ghana, which makes suicide a criminal offence.
Many Ghanaians have also supported the call for the repeal of the controversial law on grounds that it has failed woefully in deterring people from taking their lives.
Dr. Osei says, “This is not to say we are encouraging suicide but to say that we should recognize it as a medical and social issue requiring better approach than simply calling it a criminal offence.”
He thus advocates for government to put in place economic policies that will ultimately reduce poverty and financial stress.
“The silence of officialdom in the face of these killings is unsettling. I expect to hear a public pronouncement from one of these five people the president, the vice president, the minister’s of Health and Interior and Justice. Indeed, we should declare this phenomenon a national disaster so that we can marshal all forces to deal with it,” he notes.
He calls on the public to embark on an education drive to help create awareness on the alarming cases in the country.
“We should all be each other’s keeper and henceforth keep a close eye on ourselves, especially near and dear ones, and we should not hesitate to advise or refer them to the nearest health facility and psychologist or psychiatrist. We should give appropriate attention to our mental health care,” he said.
By Ibanga Isine, guest writer from Nigeria, and Jamila Akweley Okertchiri