By Ibanga Isine
Stanley was barely 18 years old when he decided to take his own life. Having completed higher secondary school in Accra, he had gone back to his village in the Northern Region to assist his father in taking care of his siblings. It was at a time his family was recovering from the blow inflicted by the death of their mother. His father was scarcely able to provide for the needs of the family.
Recounting the chain of events that occurred then, he said, “It all started after I finished secondary school in Accra and went back home to the Northern region. I thought it was wise for me to support my family. I was always in the farm and I made sure we never lacked food. I also wished to make enough money from the farm to further my education. But in spite of my good intentions, my father never saw anything good about me.”
While the young man was working himself silly in a sincere attempt at feeding the large family, he was constantly insulted, mocked and cursed by his father. “What are you doing in the village when your mates are doing well in the cities and sending good money to their parents at home?” the father would always tell him. “You said you went to school but you sleep in the bush like any other boy in the village who never steeped into a school. I am disappointed in you. You are a failure and I wish I never gave birth to a son like you,” the father had told him.
Stanley wasn’t bothered each time his father went into fits of anger. He was used to being taunted and being called the worst names. But on the day the father said he regretted giving birth to him, the young man could take it no more. He wouldn’t raise his voice to argue with his father. He swallowed all the insults and walked away. The time was 9.45 p.m. Fortunately, one of his sisters saw when he took his shirt and disappeared into the encircling darkness of the night.
“I felt so bad to be insulted by the man who brought me to life,” Stanley reminisced. “But when my father said he never wished I was born, I concluded that there was no need to live and left for the farm which was 12 kilometers away.” On getting to the farm, he set out to weave a rope strong enough to carry the weight of his body. Stanley had decided to take his life because of the unending taunting of his frustrated father.
“When I finished weaving the rope one hour later, I went and climbed a Shea nut tree. As I went up the tree, I saw a flicker of light coming from the direction of the town. I was still climbing until I got to the top of the tree and securely tied the rope I had weaved. It was then I started hearing voices as the lights came closer and closer. From the top of the tree, I could hear that the voices where those of my siblings. They were crying and begging me not to do any harm to myself. They shouted and told me how much they loved and appreciated me. They said even though our father did not love me, they loved me so much and wouldn’t want anything to happen to me,” he recounted.
Stanley was touched by the cries and genuine affection of his siblings and some youths of the community who came out to look for him. He abandoned the rope on the tree and came down.
He was lucky his siblings came before he had put his head on the rope. He would have taken his life to escape his nagging father. But hundreds of Ghanaians are not that lucky. They don’t get to be stopped before they swallow poison, tie the noose on their necks, pull the trigger or jump off a storey building.
On a daily basis, Ghanaians have continued to take their lives for reasons that are very flimsy and some that are heartbreaking. The media have been inundated with reports of people who succumb to the temptation to end their lives in very painful and miserable ways.
Edward Obeng Kwakye, the President of Obeng Kwakye Foundation, a non-governmental group involved in suicide prevention and anti-abortion campaign said the Foundation receives between five to 10 calls daily on its suicide hotline.
He said, “Most of the callers complain of difficulties in their families while others complain of inability to attain their life’s dreams.” He noted that the group has during the year prevented seven callers from taking their lives. Mr. Kwakye said the Foundation receives more calls from women than men.
Unsubstantiated data by the Network for Anti-Suicide and Crisis Prevention indicate that about 1,556 persons committed suicide in Ghana this year. Out of the number, 431 came from Greater Accra Region, 276 from the Northern Region, 132 from Ashanti Region, 118 from Upper West Region, and 114 from Brong Ahafo Region. Upper East Region recorded 102 cases, Western Region had 102 cases, Eastern Region had 98 cases, and Volta Region had 97 cases while the Central Region saw 86 cases.
People from all strata of society commit suicide in Ghana. For instance, Mohammed Iddrisu, the Municipal Commander of the Police Motor Traffic and Transport Unit (MTTU) in Techiman was reported to have committed suicide. Mr. Iddrisu, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, hanged himself inside his home while his wife went to drop his children in school. Joyce Amuzu, an 18 year-old resident of Mepom, Eastern Region, took her life during the year.
Similarly, a seven year-old boy, Nii Armah Tagoe, reportedly committed suicide at Asuoyeboah RTT, a community in Suntreso, Ashanti Region. Mr. Tagoe was said to have taken his life because his father asked him to allow his brother to use the toilet first. He found that very unbearable.
Twenty-six-year-old Prosper Karikari took his life after two unsuccessful attempts. Mr. Karikari, who operated a popular bar, the Thunder Pub in Kumasi, was said to have taken his life after his father scolded him for assaulting an innocent woman. The deceased felt he should have been allowed to assault all the women in Ghana but the father thought otherwise. He took his life apparently to hurt the father and thousands of women he never lived to assault. Serious but laughable, isn’t it?
A seasoned Ambassador and diplomat in residence from the University of Ghana, Clarus Kobina Sakyi, jumped from the Trust Towers, Accra, and terminated his life in a most bizarre way. He was at the university in the early hours of the day he took his life, but didn’t show any sign of withdrawal or depression.
Acting Director, Centre for International Affairs and Diplomacy of the university, Dr. Antwi Dansu, who worked very closely with the diplomat, said nothing suggested that the deceased could hurt himself under any guise. Speaking on the life of the deceased lecturer, Mr. Dansu said, “He was always looking good, he was always smiling and on the day he took his life, he never showed an iota of depression. So if anybody said that he was depressed it is not true. There was nothing to show that he was deteriorating. There was nothing to show that he was secluded. There were no symptoms that could have informed us that something was wrong.”
But why do so many people now contemplate suicide among all the options for resolving problems? Bishop J.Y. Adu, the founder of New Jerusalem Chapel located near Kumasi, insists that there is a spiritual dimension to the regretful situation. “Ghanaians are notoriously religious and one would have expected us to try solving our problems from the spiritual point of view,” the clergyman suggests. He, however, calls for the convocation of a national prayer for God’s intervention in the problem.
Dr. Worlasi Achondo, a medical assistant at the Accra Psychiatric Hospital blamed the problem on the socio-economic crisis in the country. He listed some of the reasons people commit suicide to include depression, feelings of unworthiness, abject poverty, marital crisis and serious family problems.
Mr. Achondo explained that persons who are inclined to committing suicide have poor sleep, suffer severe and persistent headache, withdraw from people, and manifest activity retardation including negligence of personal hygiene and lack of appetite. “Family members should report either to a psychologist or a psychiatrist when their relations manifest any of these behaviours,” he advised.
Dr. David Brent, a Psychiatrist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center said, “A first-degree relative – a parent, sibling or child – of a person who has committed suicide is four to six times more likely to attempt or complete suicide.”
Charity Akotia, a Social/Community Psychologist at the Department of Psychology, University of Ghana, said existing statistics on suicide in Ghana are unreliable. While insisting that cases of suicide were highly under-reported due to associated stigma, she cautioned the media to be wary of presenting reports on suicide in ways that tend to glorify the action.
She said, “We would like to see a national coordinating body that oversees everything about suicide and suicide prevention in Ghana.”
She also called for the repeal of Section 57, Clause 2 of the 1960 Criminal Code of Ghana, which makes suicide a criminal offence.
Many Ghanaians have also supported the call for the repeal of the controversial law on grounds that it has failed woefully in deterring people from taking their lives.
While families and communities continue to grapple with the pains and stigma of their loved ones who take their lives, experts say there is urgent need for the government and faith-based groups in Ghana to rise up and address the core issues that predispose people to consider suicide.
Every tick of the clock brings more than five Ghanaians closer to the cliff and the time to act, they say, is undeniably now.