Decriminalization of Suicide -By DJ Irawo

“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.”
― Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Today is the World Mental Health Day

Mental health refers to the cognitive, behavioral and emotional well-being of an individual. It is all about how people think, feel and behave.

In my last article, I wrote about stress, anxiety and depression. Now, I shall write about the ultimate result of mental health sickness and that is suicide.

Suicide is the act of taking one’s one life by one’s self.

Before this act can occur, a person must have gone through stress, anxiety and depression. People commit suicide out of fear, shame and hopelessness. Suicide is the last resort to unhappiness and depression.

Unfortunately, the family and friends of the suicide killer are the ones who bear the pain of the death of a victim. The victim feels no more pain once he is gone. When there is life, there is hope. Suicide is not an option. To prevent suicide, check on your loved ones. Do not accept their response of, “I am fine,” That was my response to my family and friends.

Meanwhile, I was dying. Do not preach to or advise a depressed person. That is not what they want to hear at that point in time. At that point in time, they need you to shut up and listen to them with rapt attention. They need you to walk in their shoes and see things from their own point of view. Even if you do not see things from their point of view at that point in time, pretend that you do and do not argue with them. Otherwise, they lose hope and kill themselves. Help them crawl out of that dark and deep dungeon.

The best action you can take on behalf of a suicidal person is to book a consulting session for them with a psychiatrist. If they do not want to go, trick them one way or the other. When they begin to take their drugs and feel much better as a result of therapy, you may now chip in your preaching and advice.

At this point, they are ready to listen to you and see things from your own point of view because their mind and heart are no longer heavy; they are no longer as sad as they were before their therapy. They can now hear what you have to say even though they may not accept your advice at that point in time. If you are feeling suicidal, speak out! Speak with a friend, family or neighbor and get help before it is too late. I am glad that my suicide attempt failed because my children still have their mother, my siblings have their sister, my father has his first child and you have me because you listen to my music, view my visual art and you are reading this article.

In Nigeria, apart from substance abuse and domestic violence, poverty is another cause of depression and suicidal thoughts amongst youths and adults. Many people feel sad when they lack the finance to help them afford basic amenities like food and water or achieve their desired goals via higher education. Lend a helping hand whenever you can.

Some people will tell you to ignore psychologists and mental health coaches and focus on hiring only a psychiatrist when seeking help for mental health. All these professionals are very vital for the survival of a mentally challenged individual albeit their duties come before and after.

Usually, psychology is one of the courses studied by psychiatrists so that they are able to deal with the emotions of their clients too but these professionals’ tasks differ.

A psychiatrist’s tasks are backward looking in that this professional asks her clients series of questions that relate to the client’s background; birth and general history up to the time of depression in order to get a firm grasp of the client’s problems. She also administers drugs where applicable.

A psychologist/mental health coach on the other hand is forward looking. He focuses on talk therapy. He assesses the current situation and advises the client on the way forward with the life of a patient. This advisory service is usually done after a client has consulted with a psychiatrist.

Many times, a psychologist/mental health coach recommends psychiatrists for their clients. The mental health coach/psychologist’s work does not begin until the client is calmer, stable and is looking forward to a productive life. The mental health coach/psychologist guides a client on how to get back into the client’s daily routine, help with a career boost or change etc until the client can confidently stand on his own. Mental health coach and psychologists do not administer drugs to their clients.

The difference between a psychologist and a mental health coach is that the former has a degree or diploma in the psychology of the human body while a mental health coach may or may not have a certificate in mental health and only focuses on the mental health of a patient. For example, as a mental health coach, my practice is based solely on my personal experiences and researches.

With all that I have written about mental health sickness being perpetrated by individuals due to their helplessness, it is appalling that in Nigeria, people who attempt suicide unsuccessfully are charged to court, fined and even jailed.

Attempting suicide is a criminal offense in Nigeria under Section 327 of the Criminal Code Act and carries a penalty of up to one year in prison. This law dates back to over sixty years. It was culled from the Lunacy Act of 1958 which was in existence when Nigeria was under the British colonial rule. The Lunacy Act continued to take effect in England and Wales until 1961, a year after Nigeria gained independence from the British government.

The Suicide Act of 1961 replaced the Lunacy Act thus, decriminalizing attempted suicide in England and Wales such that those who failed in the attempt to kill themselves would no longer be prosecuted.

The country that Nigeria copies its laws from has abolished this insane law yet Nigeria continues to practice it.

How absurd!

An unemployed man, Solomon Okon has been in police custody for over a month for drinking a poisonous substance. I learnt that the twenty-one year old who was a porter at Havana Hospital Surulere, Lagos out of frustration, drank a poisonous substance after receiving a letter terminating his employment in August.

Okon was squatting with a friend and was using part of the money to take care of his sick mother in Akwa Ibom. After ingesting the poisonous substance, he was treated at the hospital and afterwards, the management reported the matter at the Barracks Police station where he was arrested and detained. Afterwards, he was arraigned before a magistrate court at Yaba for attempted suicide.

The magistrate court granted Okon bail in the sum of N200,000 with two sureties. Okon’s relatives have said that they cannot afford the money. Most likely, Okon is still under detention as I write. With all that Okon is going through, there is no way that he will not try to commit suicide again in order to get out of his present predicament. The treatment of this young man and others in his situation is completely preposterous!

A significant number of African countries have decriminalized attempted suicide. Some of these countries are: Angola, Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Egypt amongst others. Another country that has only recently repealed similar provision on attempted suicide is India,
Currently, Kenya and Ghana are in talks with their legislative arm of government to repeal their criminalization of suicide laws. I hope that Nigeria changes its law with respect to suicide soon.

Our laws on suicide are due for a change for following reasons:

  • They have become obsolete and do not serve the purpose for which they were enacted anymore
  • They are inhumane They do not target the actual menace which is mental illness. A reform to this law must be made to the effect that suicide attempt victims be admitted in a mental health facility and the cost of treatment borne by the state government where the suicide was attempted.
  • In 2015, Lagos State amended its law to recommend hospital treatment for those who have attempted suicide. If Lagos state truly amended its suicide law, why was Okon still charged to court in Lagos

My Mental Health Affirmations

Suicide is not an option. I will never commit suicide. Even if the world does not value my worth, I value myself because I am special and beautiful/handsome.

I will seek help whenever I continuously feel sad and helpless.

No amount of failure in life will make me kill myself. When I fall, I rise again….stronger.

I will not be afraid or shy to speak with my psychiatrist about the things that I am going through because he/she is trained to look into the history of my problems and help find current and future solutions via clinical, emotional and physical means.

When I begin my therapy sessions, I will attend my clinic days early and take my medicine efficiently and effectively.

I will consult a psychologist/mental health coach to guide me back to a routine or flexible and exciting life.  The Nigerian suicide law should be amended to preserve the mental health of its citizens and not to make it worse.


DJ Irawo is a multimedia entertainer, divorcee and mental health coach. She lives in Lagos with her three sons.


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2 thoughts on “Decriminalization of Suicide”

  1. It’s so unfortunate to learn that suicide attempt is criminal, when in actual fact ,help is what is important. I honestly do not think a degree is required to not criminalize attempted suicide #Godhelpnigeria
    Thanks for boosting my knowledge base

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