November has been an important month for the decriminalisation of suicide In Nigeria following the completion of two significant policy milestones at government level.
Under the leadership of the Hon. Prof. Mohammed Ali Pate, Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Nigeria has now launched its National Suicide Prevention Strategic Framework and Revised National Mental Health Policy. Both policies call for decriminalisation, recognising the critical role this change will enable in shifting for the focus from punishment to care for people in critical distress. In addition, the 64th National Council on Health adopted the National Suicide Prevention Framework, committing the 36 States of the Federation to its implementation – including decriminalisation.
LifeLine International’s African Representative, Prof. Taiwo Lateef Sheikh was present at each of these events, and we recognise his ongoing contribution to this progress. Implementation of the decriminalisation agenda will now continue with the Attorney General of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“These major advances in the approach to suicide prevention, and the modernising of mental health legislation, show Nigeria’s leadership in changing policy and action to support people in deep distress and despair. We applaud this development, and recognise the potential for crisis intervention services, like those run by LifeLine International Members, to quickly adapt once the laws change to challenge stigma that remains about help seeking,” Prof Sheikh said.
As a part of Decriminalise Suicide Worldwide, a global campaign launched in October by LifeLine International, Nigeria was named as a focus county. “Lifeline International is now focused on working with civil society – crisis line services, mental health charities, religious groups, academics and clinicians – to make sure the legislation passes regardless if it is a government or a private members bill. Changing these laws will help us save lives,” Prof. Sheikh added.
The Nigerian suicide rates is 6.9 per 100,000 as reported to the World Health Organisation, using 2019 figures. Across a country of 218 million people, this reported suicide rate equates to around 15,000 people dying by suicide each year. This also equates to 300,000 people attempting to end their life annually (allowing for ratio of 20 people to each death by suicide).
It’s important to note that the data on suicides in Nigeria reported by WHO, has been provided a data quality/reliability score of 4, which is the lowest data rating used. What this means practically, is that the actual suicide rate in Nigeria could be higher.
Regardless, there is a very real opportunity for crisis support services in Nigeria to reach hundreds of thousands of people each year and prevent loss of life to suicide or self-injury.
Information on Nigeria’s suicide decriminalisation status can be found at www.suicide-decrim.network, a bespoke website launched as part of our global campaign for informed activists to be join national change coalitions.
“I encourage every organisation in Nigeria that wants to support the decriminalisation of suicide to join the campaign though our platform and be a part of the change. It is wonderful to see Government taking policy leadership, as a community we can do so much more to ensure this translates into legislation successfully passing the Parliament,” Prof. Sheikh concluded.