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Opinions of Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Columnist: Appiah, Papa

KNUST suicide victim’s death should not be in vain

By Papa Appiah

Nobody really knows the suicide rate in Ghana. But there appears to be either an increasing rate of suicide or an increased reportage of it since the advent of Social Media. Hardly a day goes by without some news item on suicide.

But the recent reported suicide of a young, beautiful and intelligent Chemical Engineering student in KNUST, Adwoa Agyarkwa Anyimadu Antwi, who happens to be the daughter of the Member of Parliament for Asante Akim Central, Mr Anyimadu Antwi, has had a rather devastating impact on many people, myself included. One could only imagine what her family is going through.

It is with this in mind that I extend my most heartfelt condolences to Mr Anyimadu Antwi and his family. I have a five year old innocent little girl and two much bigger boys. I understand the bond that can develop between a man and his daughter. I have experienced the days when your girl refuses to eat till you have arrived from work and insists on sitting on your lap all the way through dinner. I can appreciate Mr Anyimadu's loss and how he must be wondering whether anything he might have done or failed to do, may have contributed to the course of events.

A man endures the toil of labor and sheds blood and sweat with a smile just for the pleasure of having the capability to care for his children to the best of his ability while their teeth develop, and looking forward to enjoying the company of his grandchildren when his teeth are falling out. The last a man expects to do, is to have to bury his son or daughter, and definitely not under the sad circumstances we have witnessed with Adwoa's demise. It is an experience I would not wish on my worst enemy.

It appears the police have not completed their investigations yet, though the fact that there was a note makes the eventual confirmation of suicide most likely. There were initial rumors that she might have taken her own life due to difficulties she was having with her academic work. This was later denied by university authorities who confirmed the girl had actually passed all her examinations. Then there were rumors of a possible failed relationship. But this would not be Ghana if some spiritual dimension was not thrown in.

And this is what worries me. The death of a beautiful young girl may be sadly, glossed over and attributed to possible witchcraft. A priest or two may say prayers for her soul and for the rest of the family and apart from her very close family who have to cope with the trauma for the rest of their lives, everybody else would begin to forget and carry on with their lives. The life of a beloved daughter becomes a simple statistic.

According to the International Association for Suicide Prevention, “suicide is complex. It usually occurs gradually, progressing from suicidal thoughts, to planning, to attempting suicide and finally by dying by suicide.” UK statistics indicate that suicide remains a leading cause of death in teenagers (aged between 15 and 19). In this age group, it is second only to land transport accidents in men and the sixth leading cause of death in females.

In the UK, about 90% of people who die by suicide have a mental illness, most commonly depression. In fact, any other cause of suicide, be it alcoholism, a loss of self-worth or hopelessness can all be traced down to some underlying mental issue. You see, we do not understand depression. This lack of appreciation is not a Ghanaian problem. It is a worldwide problem. Except, that in other places, campaigns are being launched to improve public perception of depression while in Ghana, pictures of youngsters hanging from ropes are published in the media with reckless abandon, without a second thought for what the poor child may have endured in their lives.

Depression is an illness. It is no different from any other illness – heart disease, diabetes etc, except that it attacks the brain. The social stigma associated with anything to do with mental illness, means people do not go for help, and even when they do, their true diagnosis is often missed by unsuspecting doctors, who also need to be educated to understand, that a persistent tummy ache which won’t go away and the cause of which cannot be confirmed by investigations, might just be a desperate cry for help. A student who uncharacteristically decides not to attend lectures and stays in a room all day might just be asking for help. A dad who suddenly takes to alcohol, might just be asking for help.

Elsewhere in the world, organizations such as The Samaritans have been established to not only gather statistics about suicide but also serve as avenues for people in trouble to call for help. Where does a KNUST student or for that matter any Ghanaian who feels suicidal go for help? That is why I believe strongly, that Adwoa Agyarkwa Anyimadu Antwi’s death should not be in vain. Her dad is a member of parliament and so I implore him to seek assistance from government, private organization and individuals to establish the Adwoa Anyimadu Antwi Foundation, to help people suffering alone with depression and suicidal thoughts.

A telephone number would be advertised which people could call to speak to trained personnel who would offer any assistance they could. Often, what a person needs is just to be able to open up to someone who would understand and not judge them. There could also be national awareness campaigns on the signs and symptoms of depression. There could also be workshops for doctors and nurses on diagnosing depression patients in the community and how to treat them. The foundation would also be responsible for gathering statistics on suicide so we can all appreciate the scale of the problem and audit our progress.

I believe, that if one single life could be saved in the name of Adwoa, her death would not have been in vain and her family would also derive great pride, satisfaction and peace of mind from what would otherwise have been an unbearable traumatic experience.

Papa Appiah
Lexeve1@icloud.com