Over the past few weeks, the Mental Health Leadership and Advocacy Programme (mhLAP) has followed with intense interest a disturbing trend of alleged suicide cases across the country-two of which involved students from two of our leading tertiary institutions (The Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST); and the University of Ghana. The third case reportedly involved a sixteen-year old student at Tafo in the Eastern Region.

Experts agree that suicide is the second most common cause of death in young adults and the incidence is rising especially among the youth.

For the purpose of this press release it is pertinent to focus on why a student or the youth would attempt to kill themselves.

For some students, suicide will follow a period of depression, while for others, it is likely to be an impulsive act, perhaps triggered by a traumatic experience, for example the death of a loved one, jilted relationships or by a relatively insignificant event which may be seen as the “final straw”.

Some of the feelings/experiences that may contribute to someone feeling suicidal include: loneliness; feeling of absolute hopelessness and helplessness/feeling of worthlessness, of being a ‘waste of space’; shock; depression in those who are clinically depressed;

Besides, as may be relevant in the case of students, plans falling through e.g. not settling in well in the university community, failing an examination; the break-up in an important relationship and an inappropriately high levels of stress of the kind experienced by those with exceptionally or unrealistically high personal or academic expectations; anger; alcohol; drugs and a history of mental or physical illness.

The death of the two university students was rumoured to be caused by one or another of the above factors.

Mental Health Leadership and Advocacy Programme (mhLAP) is critically concerned because the lives of tomorrow’s leaders are being lost. The loss of any one life through suicide is one too many to accept.

Our organizations are of the firm view that whilst, as an educational institution or even a country we may not be able to eliminate completely the risk of suicide, but we CAN do some things to reduce the risk.

At the institutional level, Mental Health Leadership and Advocacy Programme (mhLAP) recommends that our universities should undertake careful induction exercises for students upon their arrival on campuses to begin their pursuit of tertiary education, focusing on finding ways of alleviating academic stress and worries.

Freshers should be alerted to the apparently obvious fact that academic work is designed to be challenging and that there is nothing bad or unusual in finding it difficult and therefore they need to braise themselves for the task ahead. Students must be told that previous students went through similar difficulties which they overcame and that same challenges await those coming after them also to surmount. Tutors must avoid making public comments, for instance at lectures which might imply that it is a demonstration of ‘weakness’ to seek help.

Also, there should be a readily available and closely associated student counseling, mental health advisors and psychiatric services in all tertiary institutions.

By all means students must be challenged and encouraged to achieve their best. However, authorities should avoid implying that to fall short of some standard (For example, making a First Class or Second Class Upper) would mean utter failure.

Mental Health Leadership and Advocacy Programme (mhLAP) also strongly recommend that university authorities including the managers of Halls of Residence and Hostels be more sensitive to changes in students under their care. Peers must also observe mood and behavioral changes in their colleagues as postulated by Emile Durkheim “Suicide can be caused by social rather than individual factors” The churches on the campuses must also provide such social support to such students. The authorities should be able to discern the difference between those students who are comfortable with being alone and the isolated or alienated.

Circumspection by the Media: Mental Health Leadership and Advocacy Programme (mhLAP) concedes that the press sometimes become aware of events such as death of a student or suspected suicide very quickly, sometimes within an hour of the event taking place which is responsive. However, the media is entreated to consider carefully before giving out any information, and in the event of a death be on the side of caution, stay away from speculating and/or describing it as ‘suicide’ prior to the coroner determining the real cause of death.

Mental Health Leadership and Advocacy Programme (mhLAP) wish to use this platform to call on Parliament to speed up action on passing the Legislative Instrument (LI) which would operationalize the Mental Health Law passed in 2012. It is unfortunate that this all-important piece of legislation has remained in limbo for five years!

We call on the media, CSOs and the good citizens of Ghana to support this call by Mental Health Leadership and Advocacy Programme (mhLAP) and others in mental health for the speedy creation of the LI because it is the LI that will, among other important things, help create employee assistance structures and provide a holistic perspective to the handling of mental health issues such increased awareness, reduced stigmatization and improved access to mental health delivery services across the country including our tertiary institutions

we call on call on the Law Reform commission to consider amending section 57 of the of the Criminal Offences Act (COA) which criminalizes persons who attempt to commit suicide finding them guilty of misdemeanor, and rather examining what underpinned such decision and provide the necessary psychological counseling to assist such victims overcome their challenges.

Source: Mental Health Leadership And Advocacy Programme (mhLAP)

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