Growing rates of suicide among teenagers in Nigeria, particularly females is becoming unprecedented. Suicide is becoming one of the leading causes of death in the country. Young people now take their lives over issues such as failed relationships, unwanted pregnancies, poor examination grades, etc. Sadly, many of these challenges often have ready solutions. The lack of awareness about mental health issues, healthy self-esteem, mentoring opportunities and safe spaces is taking its toll on young girls.
For adults, some of cases of suicide are often triggered by undiagnosed cases of mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety and common stressors like economic poverty.
However, unlike adults, mental health challenges may not always be the cause of suicide among teens, especially those who seemingly come from stable backgrounds; their situation may have been worsened by confusion, fear of negative judgement from family or friends and sometimes despair, simply because they are not equipped to process the situations they find themselves in.
This is often common when there is an absence of healthy support system due to poor self-esteem, moodiness, peer pressure and other challenges young people face. “A 2016 study found that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder was a factor in 60 percent of suicide attempts and completions, while only 33 percent had depression”.
Studies have also shown that girls develop healthy self-esteem when they have access to mentors, role models and people they admire and can learn from. It is believed that suicide rates would significantly reduce if young people have access to healthy doses of attention –to talk about their fears or anxieties.
Ours is a society where victims are first blamed, judged or mocked before they get the chance to speak up about their abuse, thereby discouraging victims from speaking up, giving room for withdrawal symptoms or depression. A society where a 12-year-old girl child is blamed for being raped or molested leaving her confused and ashamed is often a regular occurrence. Where her voice is silenced, the next best thing would be to end it all.
Even more worrisome is the fact that victims of abuse WILL NOT seek for help from designated authorities, simply because we have normalized and accepted the narrative that reporting cases of rape, abuse and/or assault to the police will most likely be “effort in futility” – the resultant effect is that the cycle of abuse festers, consequently empowering the abuser.
In Nigeria, an important element missing in the development of adolescents is the absence of mentoring both at home and in schools. The primary duty of parents is to care for their children; however, parents are passing through unprecedented levels of poverty leaving them with limited time to provide for the emotional and moral well -being of their children. These children are somehow expected to know what’s right and wrong on their own, leaving them vulnerable to learn from their peers with zero adult intervention. Also, many local schools are not equipped to provide support systems to bridge the gap.
Recently, in the news, it was reported that a school principal of a school was arrested for sleeping with his teenage students, after impregnating one, many other teenage girls spoke up about the abuse, I bet they had no idea that they were being abused. (The impunity). If they knew better, they probably would have spoken up earlier.
The lack of safe spaces for young people to express themselves will continue to breed a culture of silence and ultimately produce more young girls and boys with low self-esteem, high depression rates, violent tendencies and every other challenge synonymous with abuse.
As a mentor to many young girls, I have had teenage girls call me to ask questions about issues they can’t discuss with their mothers, sisters, friends or close relations. Some of these questions are as basic as being confused over what course to study in the university to more disturbing questions about where to find help on issues around rape, running away from home and drug/alcohol addiction.
We are in very usual times where access to information abounds and young people suffer from ‘information overload’. Children are drowning with the sheer volume of unadulterated and unfiltered content that they have access to. How they interpret the information they stumble on is better imagined.
In 2017, during a chat with a group of teenage girls, a 15-year-old told of how her friends were using antibiotics and alabukun (a local analgesic) to prevent pregnancies.
According to Jim Taylor, author of the book for parents, Raising Generation Tech; he said that “The sheer volume of information now accessible online is staggering; there are around 50 billion pages on the Web. Information continues to become more available to children in less time; from web sites to email to RSS feeds to tweets to text messages, children have input at an unprecedented rate and volume. This information age is the crazy new world in which your children are being raised and it will likely be a determining factor in how their brains and minds develop”.
What they see and hear influences them either positively or negatively. In the last 24 months, there seems to have been an upsurge and consistency in the spread of bad news in Nigeria, from ritual killings, yahoo+, drug abuse, insurgency, tanker explosions, rape of minors, suicide, unjust killings by uniformed men, …just to mention a few.
“In February 2019, a Primary 4 pupil committed suicide after failing a Spelling Test. He was only 13 years old. He hung himself from a tree. (How? Why? Where did he find the materials, the information, and the guts to take his own life at 13?. What was going through his mind at that age, what was missing and why didn’t anyone see this coming?).
It almost feels like the last time we heard something positive was eons ago. These negative absurdities continue to drown the positive stories that should serve as an avenue to inspire young people. Nigerians have now become so desensitized to death, pain, and injustice.
Funny, there was a time when it was common to say “suicide is Un-African”. What changed?
I shudder to think of the frustrations of the average child on the streets. The children without food, healthcare or access to education, What becomes of them? We can blame all we want, but the question is, what are we going to do about this?
We can start by talking and AMPLIFYING these issues. It only takes some level of commitment from everyone willing to champion these causes across their immediate and wider communities to raise more awareness about mental health issues. We need to hold to account those charged with providing welfare. We need more men to champion mentoring campaigns for boys. My heart breaks because boys need more male heroes and role models, but there seems to be a “humongous gap”.
We need to be the change, for the Nigeria we all want.
Clare writes for Inspire-Her-Africa.