On May 13, Chukwuemeka Akachi—a college senior—committed suicide following months of dark Facebook posts that documented his struggle with depression. The next day, Michael Arowosaiye, a worship leader at a church in Abuja, hung himself.
In January, a Lagos-based DJ poisoned himself with insecticide after posting a suicide message on Instagram. The Police Rapid Response Squad in Lagos has increased its patrol along the Third Mainland Bridge over the past year due to multiple suicide attempts.
In most cases, the suicidal ideation seems to stem from psychiatric conditions like depression and anxiety, as well as alcohol and drug abuse. Environmental factors such as rising urbanization, economic uncertainty, and unemployment also add to the mix, Ugo said. With more suicide stories publicized on social media, copycat incidents are on the rise, with many cases involving an insecticide called “Sniper.”
Zunzika Thole-Okpo with the Abuja-based Gede Foundation said many suicidal people remain quiet due to the social stigma surrounding mental illness. She pointed to the negative comments that flooded several of Akachi’s posts on his Facebook page.
“People’s responses would make anyone going through the same thing think twice, like ‘Why would I seek for help if they’re talking to somebody that’s asking for help this way?’”
The foundation hopes to change that trend and has partnered with U.K.-based Basic Needs to educate Nigerians on mental health disorders. Gede has also worked with local and religious authorities and healthcare providers to identify patients and provide treatment.
Thole-Okpo said such partnerships have proven essential, especially in cases where misguided religious beliefs contribute to the stigma. “We had a case where a woman was tied to a pole inside a church for over three years because she was schizophrenic, and they were just praying for her, thinking she had demons.”
After losing a friend to suicide in 2013, Christian Pastor Smart Chongo started to organize campaigns and received training in professional counseling. Three years later, he launched a hotline service under the Smart Suicide Prevention Initiative.
Today, he said, the group receives more than 5,000 calls nationwide each month. As a pastor, Chongo acknowledges the link between mental health concerns and religion. When people call in, he connects them with psychological centers, prayer groups, or Islamic clerics, depending on their background.
Yet he noted the need for balance. “If you are sick, you need medical attention and prayers,” he said. “I believe you going for tests to know exactly what’s wrong would help you pray better.”