By Femi Oyebode
As a psychiatrist with decades of experience, I understand how conversations around suicide can evoke a myriad of emotions. It is a topic that intersects with personal, societal, cultural, and religious values. Transcending these values, however, should be the fundamental belief that, at times of mental health crisis, people deserve compassion, not condemnation. The thought of locking someone up for attempting to take their own life is disturbing. And yet, in at least 25 countries across the world, that is the reality affecting at least 850 million people.
My birthplace, Nigeria, is one of those countries. It is a place where attempted suicide can land someone in prison for up to a year. To me, it seems incomprehensible that when a person is at their most vulnerable, in desperate need of support, they could be condemned and treated as a criminal. Such laws compound the stigma around mental health, with families struggling to process the discovery that a loved one has tried to take their own life.
While I grew up in Nigeria, my entire 45-year medical career has been in the United Kingdom. My patients here have undoubtedly benefitted from the positive effect of Britain’s decriminalisation of suicide in 1961. It is now overdue for other countries to make similar reforms…