In February, the teenage son of a family friend killed himself. He drank a whole bottle of a popular insecticide while on a short visit to his aunt’s home. His parents said it was a spiritual manipulation that caused him to spray a room with the insecticide and then lie down in it; even when he knew that he was asthmatic, but his mother confided in mine that he obviously drank it, that his breathe stank of the poison after his aunt found his lifeless body, and they needed to keep things quiet; that it was the best thing to do because how does a parent explain to the world that their 17 year old son drank insecticide and killed himself ‘’for no reason”? What would people say? Why would he even kill himself?
This is not a remote incident. In 2012, I gained admission into a Nigerian University which was still abuzz with the news of a student who had hung himself in the school’s volleyball pitch after leaving behind a suicide note. In my second year, a girl tried and failed to kill herself with bleach after being jilted by a boy she had lost her virginity to. In my final year, another boy hung himself in his room in hilltop, a popular student residential area.
We hear these stories every day. Most of the time, we know somebody, who knows somebody, who knew the deceased and still, we have nonchalant attitudes about suicide. All too often, when another suicide is reported on the news or social media, we hear comments like: ‘’He/she is very stupid’’, ‘’He/she is going straight to hellfire, because suicide is a sin’’, ‘’only cowards try to escape their problems by killing themselves’’, ‘’what a disgrace to his/her family…’’etc. We say hurtful things, then we move on. We close the chapter, until the next one. We tell ourselves that it could never be us hanging at the end of a noose, or threatening to jump off a Lagos bridge. We tell ourselves that ‘’those’’ people were stupid to die, die and leave this “sweeeet like sugar’’ life. We pretend like we too do not have problems, like many of us have not actually thought of ending our lives just to escape our individual hells but were stopped only by thoughts of perceived consequences, and the shame our families would have to face. We pat ourselves on the back, we put on our happy masks and pretend that we are fine. We delude ourselves.
Here is the fact: People kill themselves. They do not kill themselves because they are weak or stupid or consider their lives as having little value. Rich people kill themselves and poor people kill themselves. Men and Women kill themselves. Young and Old people kill themselves. This is not a class thing. It is not something rich people do because they are bored or poor people do because they don’t have enough.
People kill themselves because they have issues, issues they can’t seem to find solutions to or escape from. A lot of people are in a bad place; terrible, dark and difficult parts of their lives, and sometimes it’s hard to crawl out of that dark place. Don’t be the person that thinks: ‘’but I went through that too. I didn’t kill myself…’’ Understand that what made you stronger broke someone else.
People die because no one stopped them. They didn’t get the help they needed. People die because we underestimated their struggle and let them fight their little demons alone. Their little demons turned into giants and slaughtered them.
The signs are always there but the question is: Do we even look? Do we even know what to look out for? Your classmate kills himself one fine morning and you say you don’t understand why he would do such a thing. Did you think it was a passing joke all the times he literally said ‘’I am just tired of this life’’.
What if we became the people who helped people not kill themselves instead of talking about people who killed themselves? What if we learned the signs, both verbal and otherwise, of a suicidal person?
What if we started to listen? Like really listen.