Thursday, September 17, 2009

Low Suicide Rate

I have lived in Nigeria for 14 years, and I have yet to hear of a suicide of someone I know. I have discovered that suicide is relatively rare in Nigeria. Once in awhile I find someone who has heard of a suicide somewhere, but it's just not common.

In contrast, I could name people I personally know from the U.S. who have committed suicide. In fact, I don't even want to search through my memory too far to remember these painful situations. Ok, I just thought for 30 seconds and I came up with 5: a teacher, two schoolmates, and two students.

The thing that boggles my mind is this: life is HARD in Nigeria, but people don't contemplate suicide. Here are a few of the factors that make life hard here:
1. Food: Much of the population spends about 90% of their earnings on food. This is their concern: How am I going to feed my family today?
2. Housing: Many people live in 1 or 2 rooms in crowded compounds.
3. Job search: Some people (with college degrees) search for years before getting a job.
4. Very few leisure activities--very few affordable vacation destinations
5. Electricity: Epileptic power supply--2 hours a day these days
6. Water: City water once every 3 weeks is not enough.
7. No recourse for unfair treatment or practices
8. Armed robbery is a daily reality
9. Vehicle accidents are common
10. Complex relationship situations
11. Let me not continue...

I've been bringing this topic up every now and then for the past few years, but it was just last week that I finally heard a new answer as to why this may be so.

A Nigerian missionary doctor and his family dropped in for a visit, and we eventually ended up on this topic. This is what he said: Nigerians have a fear-based culture in which any time something bad happens to them, they are looking for the person who caused it. They believe that evil forces are against them, and they fight those forces at all costs. The worst thing that could possibly happen to them is to die because that means their enemy has won. So if you take your own life, that is helping your enemy to triumph over you--and that is the last thing you want.

Bayo says that's partially true, but he believes it's more that Nigerians are simply a resilient people. They have a common saying in broken English "E go beta" (It's going to get better). They tend to look at the bright side. When things are so bad, they have to eventually get better, right? They want to live to enjoy the pleasures of life which they believe will eventually come their way. Nigerians have a strong belief in God. And this is the basis of their faith that things will get better.

When someone is down and depressed, their friends and colleagues will surround them not so much with sympathy, but rather with a pep talk.

It's not possible to make a broad sweeping statement about suicide for all of Africa. In my discussions with the few Kenyans I have known, they tell me that suicide is a real problem in their country.

Although life truly is hard here in Nigeria, it's a pleasure for me to live and work among such a resilient people. I have learned much.


conniez said...

Do you think the extended family plays a part in this also?

Jannine Ebenso said...

Thank you Mary Beth for this thoughtful entry.

Sweet Prince said...

I have often wondered about the high rates of road rage incidences in Washington compared to the nightmarish traffic in Lagos!