On February 23, 2014, 25 year old Arti Shrivas passed away in her family residence in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, India. Arti who had waited till her mother and two other siblings were out of the house before allegedly taking her life was found hanging on the ceiling fan by the domestic help on Saturday. Surprisingly, ten days prior to the incident, Arti had used an illustrative picture with the inscriptions “I hate my life” as her profile picture on Facebook, which all of her six friends including her mother Mamta had liked. Arti had lost her father four years ago and her mother had after gotten the job on compassionate grounds. A month before she took her life, Arti had resigned from her job with the private company she was working with and on January 19th, she had posted a statement on Facebook saying, “I just don’t have an attitude! ….Just a personality that you can’t handle!” One of the police officers who has been probing the suicide case was quoted as saying, “No suicide note has been found. Police could not record her family’s statement as they are in a state of shock. Her recent quitting of job might well have something to do with the suicide. , reports TimesofIndia

Arti’s story is just one of the many that are reported daily across the globe in the media, Ghana very much inclusive. MyJoyOnline reported December last year that a pastor hanged himself in his single room apartment at Kasoa Chinese near Tuba Junction in Accra a week after his wife’s death. Also reported January this year was the case of the Suhum Municipal Coordinator for the National Service Scheme who allegedly commited suicide outside his home in Somanya. GhanaNewsLink also made mention January this year of a devoted Christian Ghanaian woman who threw herself in front of a train at Staten Island, New York, USA. And just yesterday, a 28-year old man butchered his wife, strangled his seven month old infant then hang himself on a nearby tree, reported by Ghanaweb.

 This may come as a surprise, but by the end of today, about five Ghanaians would have successfully claimed their own lives. Unfortunately, people pay no heed to these recurring incidents which are gradually increasing into a huge problem as day-in and day-out precious lives of both the young and old are personally claimed.

It is no secret that nothing happens suddenly. Just as every building has a foundation from which it gradually springs and every paragraph has a topic sentence from which it develops, every situation that occurs is just the climax of a story that began some time ago. People are just not meticulous enough to see the warning signs in the beginning and then when the end finally comes and they find themselves in the mess, it doesn’t occur to them that it probably started a long time ago. A car doesn’t suddenly break down; a nail doesn’t suddenly break off; a tooth doesn’t suddenly come out; and a relationship doesn’t suddenly come to an end. Suicide is no exception in this case. Psychiatrists, psychologists and career counsellors have delved into the subject area and come out with some warning signs of suicide so as to help the lay man identify when someone is at the risk of taking their own lives. The risk is said to be greater if the behavior is new or has increased and it seems related to a painful event, loss or change. According to the website www.save.org, the following are signs that a person contemplating suicide is likely to show.

 There is the tendency for the person to be talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself, looking for a way to kill oneself such as searching online or buying a gun, talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live, talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain, talking about being a burden to others, increasing the use of alcohol or drugs, acting anxious or agitated -behaving recklessly, sleeping too little or too much, withdrawn or feeling isolated, showing rage or talking about seeking revenge, displaying extreme mood swings, preoccupied with death, suddenly happier and/or calmer, losing interest in things one cares about, visiting or calling people to say goodbye, making arrangements that is setting one’s affairs in order, and also giving things away such as prized possessions. Anyone displaying three or more of any of these symptoms could be contemplating taking their lives and should be immediately taken to the nearest hospital to seek professional help.

The symptoms listed above can be categorized under one disorder, and this is depression. Looking back at Arti’s situation, her friends made mention after she committed suicide that Arti had been quite depressed after the death of her father. Two of Arti’s friends had also adviced her by leaving comments on the profile picture that she should delete the word “hate” from her dictionary. Her family, unfortunately, had not noticed anything absurd about her recent outrages. Psychiatrists and career counsellors however said that the recent changes Arti made on her Facebook page were reflective of acute depression which eventually led to her ending it all. Depression affects 121 million people worldwide. At its most severe, depression can lead to suicide and is responsible for 850,000 deaths every year (BioMed Central, 2011). People who are depressed express themselves according to how they feel in words which sadly are not taken seriously. Arti’s profile picture was indeed reflective of most of the symptoms identified above. A psychiatrist has been quoted as saying, “The ‘I hate my life’ expression is a strong sign of something serious. Had her friends and kin taken these changes seriously and either counseled her themselves or sought professional help, the alleged suicide could have been prevented.” India’s daily newspaper TimesofIndia quoted another career counselor Sachin Bhatnagar as saying that “Facebook is gradually becoming a medium for teenagers and youths to interpret events in their life. Expressions of such feelings should be taken seriously by families and addressed through timely counseling.”

What then can be said to be the problem? Is it that like Arti’s situation Ghanaians are ignoring the warning signs displayed by suicide victims before they engage in the act? Could it also be that Ghanaians are well aware that the victim’s changes in behavior are symptoms of suicide but then they do not know the next step to take? Or is it that the symptoms associated with the act make it obvious that the victim is struggling with a mental disorder (which brings stigma) that is why families who identify these symptoms fail to seek help? There is one thing that Ghanaians need to understand; mental disorders are not adjectives. They are exactly what they are called; disorders, illnesses. Just as a person running a high temperature would be rushed to the hospital for treatment, a person displaying suicidal behavior should be rushed too. We may forget this, but everyone was created for a purpose. If people deliberately check out early, they go with the talents our environment would have developed from. Let us obey the traffic lights of suicide and save our environment.

There is more to read in this ultimate guide to addiction and suicide

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