August 17, 2018

Why are our teenagers committing suicide? – Peju Akande

Why are our teenagers committing suicide? – Peju Akande

Sixteen is the age most of us fall in love for the first time but at this age, Joseph, not real name, who outwardly appeared to have a comfortable life in a prestigious school took his own life.

Boye, not real name, attended one of the big schools in Lagos; appeared to be a well-adjusted boy, then his parents moved him to a school out of Lagos… a great school by the way. They didn’t think he would have a hard time settling in, after all, a few family friends were also in that school. They were wrong, a few weeks in this new school, his parents got the call no parents should get…your boy has committed suicide!

Charles, not real name was a final year student at a university. He was described as an A student, so it looked like he was doing fine…then he committed suicide and everyone is wondering why? His family cried foul, someone pushed him to it they said, our boy loves life too much to do this, they wailed.

The parents didn’t see it coming. The guardians, friends and neighbours who loved these people didn’t see it coming.

Were there signs they missed? Subtle signs? Obvious signs?

Signs like:

Victim: Can I talk to you?

Loved one: Not now, I’m busy…

Victim: I just want to die…

Loved one: Go and die now, who’s stopping you?

Signs like that?

Why are kids choosing to die? Kids who have no terminal diseases, who come from comfortable homes with friends and family who love them, kids who have no history of mental illnesses and yet… took that option to end their pain.

I’m only assuming pain is the most urgent force for suicide. I imagine they considered whatever issues that bothered them to be hopeless; they felt they couldn’t talk to anyone about their hurt nor find a remedy to their situation and therefore ended their lives.

Oh, how I wish parents and care givers could’ve reached these ones before it became too late!

Years back, a friend called me one night. She was desperate as she told me this story:

‘I thought I was in a good place, my kids seemed to be doing well. I thought I knew them individually, I could hazard guesses as to where their emotional pendulum swung at any point in time.

I was wrong. My kid was being bullied at school for being dyslexic. He was called names, labelled a dull boy and he didn’t say anything to me at home. I was blissfully unaware.

Then I got called by his headmaster, a note had been found in his locker after he was found sniffling in the bathroom. The teacher who found him then reached out to him and out came an avalanche of pain and hurt I never even suspected my child was suffering from.

I died.

I was mad at the other kids; I was sad I didn’t see it until then. I was angry at this kid who knew I loved him to heaven and back and yet told me nothing of it. I raced to the school to pick him up. I prayed and cried and begged and promised to listen better, to be more watchful.’

The alarm bell rang for my friend, early. Not so for many parents these days, especially of boys who find it hard to communicate their hurt.

Come to think of it, suicide is not easy; have you seen those comedies where a man attempts suicide and backs out quickly when he realises the level of pain he would feel before life leaves his body?

I imagine a good number of these kids regretted too late and their parents and loved ones will suffer the consequences for the rest of their lives.

I grieve with families of teenage suicide victims; I grieve for their loved ones who will forever blame themselves for the victim’s decisions. The fact is stark; more Nigerian kids are attempting suicide because they see their situations as being hopeless. No longer do we have that never say die spirit Nigerians are known for. Kids these days aren’t as adaptive as we were growing up, they are looking for what they think is the easy way out.

Psychologists will tell us that about 12 per cent of adolescents in Nigeria have attempted suicide at some point in their lives; WHO’s 2014 ranking also shows that suicide and attempted suicide is growing at an alarming rate of 6.11% in the country.

So really, how do you identify a potential victim and why is suicide more common to males?

The reasons for suicide varies from kid to kid; psychologists cited some reasons – the need to escape feelings of rejection, hurt, pain, victimisation, feeling unloved or loss.  And sometimes, it could be that victims feel like they are a burden to their parents or guardians. Not to forget other issues like abuse, bullying, death of a loved one and or breakup.

The signs may not be obvious but where it is suspected, such teenagers can be helped through counselling by parents, teachers, caregivers and surrounding adults.

Most important is to let these kids understand there is always a solution to whatever is bothering them and suicide is never an option.

Religion should also play a role here; most times kids who are able to express themselves either in prayer or through some form of mediation can vent feelings of hurt and deprivation that can trigger suicidal thoughts.

There’s no one way to knowing if a kid is going to commit suicide, we can only pray, i guess; we must recognise there’s a higher power who’s help we need to circumvent issues like this.

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