Don’t criminalise suicide in Nigeria to address rising cases- Consultant Psychiatrist

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By Lucy Osuizigbo

Awka – A Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr Taiwo Sheikh, on Tuesday urged the Federal Government to decriminalise suicide to reduce its high rate in Nigeria.

Sheikh, who works with the College of Health Sciences, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), that Nigeria has no suicide prevention programmes, hence suicide was criminalised.

NAN reports that Section 327 of the Criminal Code Act criminalises attempted suicide and it carries a penalty of up to one year in prison.

Sheikh, also President, Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria (APN), said suicide was the leading cause of death among young people in the age bracket of 18 to 25 years.

According to him, out of every three people who plan to commit suicide, one of them is a student or a youth.

“We cannot continue to fold our hands and do nothing while the younger generation, the future leaders of our country, are dying.

“If you don’t decriminalise suicide, someone who attempted suicide and did not succeed will make sure he succeeds, because of the penalty he or she will face,” he said.

Sheikh decried the 1916 Colonial Lunacy Act which he said was still operational in the country.

The expert said that the old law does not conform to universal mental health standard.

“That Lunacy Law fails to define mental health disorders.

“It has no clear posture toward dissocial personality, psycho-pathy or substance use disorders as important considerations in the elucidation of mental disorders from a psycho-legal point of view.

“There is a newly proposed legislation named Mental Health and Substance Abuse Bill before the National Assembly, which reflects reality of the present time.

“The bill, which has passed its first and second reading, at the National Assembly, if passed, will help to reposition the health sector to meet the emerging modern mental health challenges.

“It will grant the human rights of mental patients and ensure that they have access to qualitative care in all mental health or psychiatric facilities,” he said.

Sheikh urged the Federal Government to implement mental health promoting legislations, decriminalise suicide, as well as establish suicide prevention strategy in the country.

The Britain, who initiated the Lunacy Act of 1916 which is still operational in Nigeria, has abolished criminalisation of suicide by the Suicide Act of 1961.

The abolition of such laws is premised on the principle that a man owns his own life, not the government.

He has a right to it, until such time he does not have the reasonable capacity to make sound decisions for that life.

According to the Law, People with mental health issues require empathy, not force.


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