Chukwuemeka Akachi a young Nigerian poet has taken his own life, just hours after he wrote a suicide note and posted it on Facebook. Akachi’s penultimate Facebook post was on his struggles with mental health, but few people took the issue seriously. Some people mocked him, and referred to him as weak, calling him a selfish attention seeker. Unfortunately, these are common responses to mental health issues across Africa.
In the suicide note Akachi wrote: “Suicide Note.
Forgive me. In case you are the one who found the body, I am really sorry. It had to be someone, you know. I have chosen Jo Nketaih’s poem as my suicide note: “They said you came looking for me. I didn’t drown; I was the water.” Where do atheists go to when they die? lol. Amen”.
Akachi had mental problems and spoke about it in a Facebook note, which he posted a few days before he took his life. On May 12 he wrote: “My mental health has been on life support for a while now. Thanks to those who call. Text. Visit. Speak to me. May we always remember. May we never forget. You may have added a few hours, months or days to my time here. But you know life support is expensive right? Thanks
for trying. Amen.”
Many of the responses to the post were negative, unsurprisingly so considering that mental health issues carry stigma in the black community. There is also a lot of misunderstandings, and negative stereotypes and attitudes surround mental illness. Considering the stigma, a lot of people suffer in silence. There is need to approach mental health issues, and suicide from a sensitive and informed place of compassion that also focuses on the real situation of the people facing these struggles.
There are various risk factors for suicide, and depression is a common factor. Depression is an important risk factor, which claims hundreds of thousands of lives each year. According to the World Health Organisation, close to 800 000 people kill themselves every year. Many more are believed to attempt to kill themselves, while others contemplate suicide, even if they do not act on their thoughts. The organisation says 79% of these suicides take place in low to middle-income countries.
WHO reports that depression is an illness characterized by persistent sadness and a loss of interest in activities that you normally enjoy. There are various myths about depression, which include: it’s not a real disease, or only women get depressed or it’s a ‘White’ disease.
Mental health problems often go untreated as a result of the lack of understanding, and stigma. There is need for everyone in our communities and societies to be conscious and remember that we are all vulnerable to depression, and thus should be supportive of friends, colleagues, family members going through the most in life. Support and positive attitudes of family, friends, service providers, employers, and other members of the community toward people with mental illness are known to be critical to ensure quality of life for people with mental illness and supporting recovery.