A new study has revealed that 22 Nigerian students committed suicide in 2019. The study carried out by hypothesis.com, an independent research group, was a content analysis of reported cases of suicide in both mainstream and social media from January to December 2019. The figures showed that 70 suicide cases were recorded in 2019 out of which 74% (52 persons) were cases involving men while 26% (18 persons) were women. The study further showed that 22 students committed suicide in 2019.
Details showed that 72% of the students committed suicide using Sniper insecticide while 28% used other methods. Though most of the challenges faced by suicide victims lead to depression that pushes them to take their lives, there were specific reasons why these students committed suicide in 2019. The findings showed that 27% percent committed suicide due to poor academic record, another 27% did same due to strained relationship with their partner, 23% took their lives specifically due to depression, as stated in the media reports of the incidents, while another 23% were due to other reasons or the reasons were not mentioned in the media report.
Massmediang adopted the data journalism technique in reporting the trend of suicides in 2019 with facts from the study conducted by hypothesis.com. Full list of all suicide victims is also available.
The complete list of suicide victims in various states of the country was also recorded in the study. Most of the incidents were cross-checked in both social and mainstream media to further measure authenticity of the incidents. The doubtful incidents which appeared in just one or two social media platforms were not recorded.
Massmediang sought to find out possible explanations for some of these findings from scholars in the society, especially regarding the fact that more Nigerian men committed suicide than women in 2019.
Why 22 students committed suicide in 2019
The study revealed that 22 students committed suicide out of the 70 cases in 2019, as reported in the media. Of this number, 59% were male students while 41% were female students. Experts and scholars attempted to explain why a relatively large number of students committed suicide in 2019.
Prof. Okunna says peer pressure played a key role. According to her:
“Peer pressure is a primary cause in this case. Your peers assessment of you; you can blame social media somehow because people are living a false life on social media. Sometimes people are not what they present on social media. As they keep pretending and things don’t turn out the way they expected they become frustrated. This also happens to couples. Come and see the way some of them refer to themselves in public, “oh my darling wife, oh my lovely husband” yet at home they’ve not spoken to one another for a week. That frustration of living a double life forces you to the brink.”
To Prof. Nkwam-Uwaoma, “You talk about academic frustration. This issue of sex for grade, money for grade, some of them may not be able to pay, especially those from poor families. Apart from this, even the students from wealthy homes, some of them are reading the courses they were forced to read and the family expectation is so high on them and things like that.”
Prof Oso also contributed his opinion on the involvement of a relatively large number of students in suicide incidents in 2019. According to him;
“If you look at it they may be on the same pressure. The shame that you can’t measure up; you know African society we tend to put so much value on the male child. So if the male child thinks that he has disappointed the family by not measuring up there is that tendency to want to go to the extreme. Women could be able to bear so thing.”
Among the 22 students that committed suicide in 2019, there were more male students (13) than female students (9). So the argument of high expectations among men possibly relates to this finding.
Blaming the Media
Some scholars have suggested that the media contribute in some measures to the spate of suicides in the society. The Nigerian mass media are not an exception. Both social and mainstream media published suicide incidents mostly with details of how the victims committed suicide. Suicidologists whose main interest is the study of suicides have argued that the media indirectly cause people to commit suicide. What is the view of Nigerian scholars on whether the media in the country are culpable in the spate of suicides in 2019?
Prof. Oso talks about possible moral panic caused by the media and the unethical practices of social media when reporting sensitive incidents.
“There is the moral panic argument that the more the media pay attention to some social problems the more those social problems increase. So it’s more like what we call the amplification spiral. The more media pay attention to a social issue the more it seems to increase. It’s just like this rape issue. The way rape is reported now it’s as if rape is going on every day. But rape has been there before; but because society is paying more attention now so the media is also paying attention. So that’s where you find media agenda feeding into public agenda and the agenda of the state.
“Social media people whether we like it or not, a good number of them are interested in the number of cliques. That’s one of the drawbacks of social media. That’s why they don’t bother about ethics, they don’t bother about social responsibility,” he said.
Prof. Gambo argues that there needs to be more research with extensive methodology before concluding that the media cause suicide incidents;
“Actually there is a factor if you look at the tendency to replicate. For instance, sniper that is formulated to fight a different thing has now emerged as a major killer. And it’s even a thing of pride these days for one to say well if they push too hard I’ll just go and take sniper. But whether actually we can blame the media in terms of causation is another thing entirely. We’ve not had significant number of studies and we have not used extensive methodologies to be able to arrive at such causations. We need to investigate more.”
Prof Gambo further suggested that suicide incidents could be reported responsibly. “There are many ways of reporting events and issues without even going into the gross description of such events and issues. If it is an ethical issue where we say we don’t want to lead people into details, we want to conceal some of the details because of possible offence or because we don’t want to lead people to commit suicide yet on the other hand we have a responsibility to report, we can report suicide using the appropriate language without going into that kind of details. This is because by presenting such description we’re automatically likely to be teaching those who have the tendency to commit suicide to do so.
“Whether it is the social media or conventional media the question of causation must be properly answered because you need the appropriate methodology to arrive at that kind of conclusion as to whether it is a mere association or there is a causal relationship. I don’t think that we can blame the media for that. People have different reasons for committing suicide. We might say the media are accessories to suicide, may be if we have substantial evidence we can say they have contributed a quarter but to what extent is this? It is very very dangerous to go into that kind of conclusion without proper studies. You already have a foundation for suicide in most instances but we can say the media may be responsible for a fraction but I don’t know the fraction,” he concluded.
Suicide is not an option
All the scholars and exerts interviewed unanimously agreed that suicide was not an option. They insisted that people should strive to push on despite difficulties they faced.
According to Prof. Okunna, “No, you have to press on. It may not be easy but suicide is never an option. Anyone who commits suicide is a coward. I don’t believe in suicide. Suicide is a coward’s reaction to difficulties. This is a psychological problem. I don’t think anyone who commits suicide is normal.”
Prof. Nkwam-Uwaoma said; “There are suicide hotlines that some psychologists have opened online. In civilized societies there are suicide hotlines. Immediately anyone begins to have suicidal thoughts he or she presses the button and gets assistance in terms of counseling and probably more. We should be able to put in our school systems the development of the psych. The issue of suicide, the beginning point is the mind. When the mind is polluted, when the mind refuses to see a better alternative the body will now react. So people should open up.”
Prof. Okeke added her view on this; “In terms of suggestions, there should be proper reorientation of the youth, improvement in economic system/ income power of the people, sincere war against corruption and giving young people a sense of belonging. Suicide can never be the option because the dead person cannot solve the problems he has abandoned. Campaign/enlightenment programmes should be carried out on the evils of suicide using also the religious angle of it.”
Prof. Oso said: “Suicide shouldn’t be an option. We should try as much as possible to educate people that there’s always a tomorrow. The stress you’re going through today, the pressure you’re going through today, all things being equal it will go. Then you can go back to your normal life. I think we should try as much as possible to educate people that what is happening now may not be the end of life. Tomorrow may be better. There’s always a silver lining somewhere. The economy may be bad but some people are making it within the bad economy. Sometimes people tend to put their gaze too far. They rate themselves so high. If you live a very modest life you will still cope despite the harsh economy.”
(Updated December 28, 2019)