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 Table of Contents  
ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Year : 2020  |  Volume : 36  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 119-124

Suicide announcement on social media in Nigeria


1 Department of Psychiatry, Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria
2 Department of Psychiatry, Jos University Teaching Hospital, Jos, Nigeria

Date of Submission17-Apr-2019
Date of Decision13-Aug-2019
Date of Acceptance12-Sep-2019
Date of Web Publication27-Jun-2020

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Musa Usman Umar
Department of Psychiatry, Bayero University, Kano
Nigeria
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/ijsp.ijsp_27_19

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  Abstract 


Background: Suicidal behaviors are recently being documented on social media and the Internet. Online social media such as Facebook represent a new dimension for global information transfer. Suicidal behaviors and their consequence on social media are yet to be evaluated in professional articles. This article seeks to discuss the potential effects of suicidal behaviors on Facebook and to bring forth the need for awareness among health-care professionals and the general public. Methodology: We present ten cases of suicidal announcement on social media platforms and discuss the challenges associated with social media announcement of suicide. Results: In the ten cases we presented, there were warning signs of suicide posted by the individuals on their Facebook walls, but help was not provided on time or after the incident with resultant completion of suicide. In some of the cases, there was an attempt to alert some friends on the suicidal ideation, but most friends thought that the statement was not related to suicide. While in others, caring and empathic support with quick intervention from friends and family led to the rescue of the suicidal individuals. Limitation: The mental health status of the individual before they showed warning signs of suicide was not known, and therefore it was not possible to assess their mental states. Other reports have shown that not all individuals with suicidal signs will proceed to attempt suicide or complete the suicide. Conclusion: Suicide announcement through social media is being recognized as probably a unique form of suicidal behavior which has the potential for prevention of suicide through early identification of high-risk individuals. Suicide knowledge and attitude and less stigmatization toward mental illness may help in encouraging help-seeking behavior and the general populations' understanding of suicidal warning signs while operationalizing methods of assisting such individuals.

Keywords: Announcement, social media, suicide


How to cite this article:
Umar MU, Armiya'u AY, Ali TM. Suicide announcement on social media in Nigeria. Indian J Soc Psychiatry 2020;36:119-24

How to cite this URL:
Umar MU, Armiya'u AY, Ali TM. Suicide announcement on social media in Nigeria. Indian J Soc Psychiatry [serial online] 2020 [cited 2020 Jul 12];36:119-24. Available from: http://www.indjsp.org/text.asp?2020/36/2/119/288107




  Introduction Top


Suicide is one of the major public health problems that is associated with physical, social, emotional, and economic consequences.[1] There are approximately one million deaths from suicide every year, which represents a global mortality rate of 16 people/100,000 or one death every 40 s. Suicide is an emerging problem in low- and middle-income countries.[2]

In 2016, worldwide, an estimated 817,000 suicide deaths occurred, representing an annual global age-standardized suicide rate of 11.1/100,000 population.[2] Globally, the number of deaths from suicide has increased by 6.7% from 1990 to 2016.[2] A systematic review of suicidal rates in Africa reported an incidence of 3.2/100,000 population,[3] nearly 49,558 suicides/year in Africa and 1.9 suicides/100,000 population in Nigeria.[4] Males are four times more likely to commit suicide than females.[5] A recent study also reported the prevalence of suicidal ideation at 7.28% in Nigeria.[6]

The global age-standardized rate of years of life lost from suicide in the recent Global Burden of Disease study was estimated at 458.4 (438.5–506.1)/100,000 in 2016 accounting for 2.18% (1.9%–2.2%) of total years of life lost.[2] Suicide remains an important contributory factor to mortality worldwide. The economic cost of suicide is estimated to be in the billion United States Dollars a year.[7]

In 2018, Nigeria had 92.3 million Internet users, representing 47.1% of the population, and the Internet penetration is set to reach 84.5% in 2023.[8] Nearly 72% of the users of the Internet in the country visit social networking sites.[9] The field of social media presents a new area of challenge in suicide and suicidal prevention. The social media has the potential for use in the prevention of suicide[10] and has been used to get the timeline in attempted suicide.[11] It has been suggested that the social media can be used to prevent suicide by providing anonymous, accessible, and nonjudgmental forum to share experience[12] through members' empathy, community belonging, and constructive belonging.[13] Suicidal ideation and other warning signs of suicide have been used to predict and estimate suicide.[14] Here, we present ten cases of individuals who announced their suicide on various social media outlets. We also discussed the potential use of announcement of suicide on social media in understanding the behaviour of the suicidal individual and its use in the prevention of suicide.


  Methodology Top


All the social media data that were used are publicly available from a number of blogs and online news media including Linda Ikeji blog (https://www.lindaikejisblog.com/), Naira Land (https://www.nairaland.com/), Laila blog (https://lailasnews.com/), Premium Times (https://www.premiumtimesng.com/), Sahara Reporters (http://saharareporters.com/), Information Nigeria (www.informationng.com/), and Pulse News (https://www.pulse.ng/). The authors did not contact or interact with the relatives or those that survived the suicide. Much care was taken to keep the cases anonymous. Searches were limited from 2013 to 2018. The search terms that were used include “commits suicide after posting on Facebook (and other related social media such as Twitter),” “suicide on… Facebook (and other related social media),” “kills self after posting…,” and “commits suicide after announcing on….” The phrase “attempted suicide…” was also used.

The language used for each of the ten cases was classified as either “suicidal” or “dysphoric” based on the work of Won et al.[14] A thematic content analysis of the statements from the postings was also done with the following major themes identified: sadness, loneliness/hopelessness, self-glorification, frustration/helplessness, spiritual problems, blaming, and relieve (that it will soon be over). The amount of social media data was classified into two measures, namely, “suicide weblog count” and “dysphoric weblog count.” The suicide weblog count was defined based on the word suicide at least once. In our case, words that signify suicide such as “to kill self” were also included. The dysphoric weblog count was defined as daily document of frequency mentioning words such as “be tired,” “be painful,” and “be exhausted.” Phrases that have “frustration” in them were also added. These two words are likely to express the subjective psychological state of the writer.[14]

The responses by other bloggers were based on Fu et al.'s classification of microbloggers' responses. These responses were classified into the following themes: caring, showing empathy and giving advice; calling for help; cynical or indifferent comments; or shocked response.[15]

In all the cases, some details were changed slightly, but without changing the presentation of the case histories, to enhance anonymity.

The nature of the article may not require consent from individual cases, as identity has been made anonymous. The ethics committee of the institution guided the process to ensure compliance with ethics of research on human subjects. Approval was obtained from the Ethics Committee of Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Kano, Nigeria (NHREC/21/08/2008/AKTH/EC/1456).


  Case Reports Top


Case 1

A 42-year-old single female, a university graduate, was said to have sent a suicide letter to friends on her Facebook wall on October 1, 2013. In the note, she informed the friends of her intention to harm herself. She was reported to have posted “. to end it all.” One of the friends who got the mail suspected that she will kill herself, but other friends assured her that she was reading too much meaning into the post. Seven days later, after making her last Facebook post, she committed suicide. She died by hanging herself.

Case 2

A 27-year-old male left this message on his Facebook page “what they said about me is not true in school but God know(s) better. Thanks we see at the END I luv (love) u all,” before committing suicide in June 2012. He had injected himself with a poison and later hanged himself on a tree. He was said to have been accused of examination malpractice in the university he was attending.

On the same day, he made his first post, about 2 h later; he updated the wall with “. why me” before killing himself the next morning. He had shown signs of behavioral disturbance from his parents' report and was prevented from leaving the house. In this case, the friends did not respond until after they learned of his death. Comment from his last post came 5 h later, but this was after his death.

Case 3

A 30-year-old man committed suicide after posting on his Facebook wall that he was giving his friends a “Christmas gift” in December 2011. He had problem in collecting his certificate from a university. He wrote “I have had failure in all aspects of my life. I have invested 10 years of my life for BSc yet.” Also, he blamed spiritual powers for his problem. “Any business I run always fail, usually due to DEUS EX MACHINA. Some say I need deliverance because I'm cursed.” He ended with “I hate God 4 allowing d (the) demons 2 continuously destroy my hard work.” He also postponed a wedding to his pregnant fiancé because of financial problems. His last post was a quote from a Nigerian musician, Fela Anikulopo-Kuti: “double wahala 4 dead body n d owner of dead body,” meaning more problem to the death and the relations of the deceased. There was no response to his Facebook post until after his death.

Case 4

In April, 2017, a woman in her mid-twenties took to her Twitter handle with the following message: “I feel like I finally have the strength to go through it.” Within hours, her friends wrote back to her discouraging her from carrying out the supposed suicide threat with messages like “what are you talking about? Send me a message lets us talk;” “please don't do it.”

Within the same hour, her aunt and a friend went to her house where they met her with a wrist cut. The young woman posted “guys I went through with it just praying for the end… and my aunt showed up.” She added, “I have been asked to stay away from sharp objects till when I am done with therapy.”

Case 5

A male medical doctor posted on his Facebook timeline, “finally went through with it. (I) ingested about 80 tablets of different drugs. If and when I die, please do remember that it was… that killed me.” Immediately, his friends started calling him based on the post including “Hello… please don't go through with it, whatever it is that seems do heavy today, God and time can fix it. Just reach out to somebody now, you will be totally fine.” One of his friends posted that he was found and resuscitated, and later another friend in his link posted “Dear family and friends… (He) is fine and the situation has been brought under control. Please do not panic. Just remember him in your prayers and kind thoughts.”

Case 6

In February 2016, a Nigerian celebrity was reported to have posted on his Instagram of his threat to commit suicide.

In a series of post on his Instagram, he posted: “Our escape from reality. Most of us are dying inside and feel the only way we can be happy is by making other people around us happy…. I'm frustrated I can't lie and yes I'm too emotional and I got issues I know…. Life is really meaningless to me right now.” He also added “too late…. I won't be making any more videos from now henceforth I'm sorry. Thanks to everyone who ever supported and stood.”

A number of his friends and other celebrities pleaded with him, with some crying and being tearful in their pleading through video posts. One of his friends narrated how he went to his house. “(He) is safe and alright now. Taking over his accounts and phones till further notice…. Got several calls and text from lots of people this morning, telling me (he) posted a strange post today around 12:00. Had to check if it was true. Called him on phone but he wasn't picking up my calls was well.

“Had no choice but to head over to his house…. I was as well thinking of (him) not to do anything stupid (I can't afford to lose any other person close to me)…. (He) is fine and safe now. Just pray for us…. #GodsPlan is the #Best!!“

Case 7

In November, 2017, a graduate of a tertiary institution in Nigeria committed suicide hours after posting this message on his Facebook page.

“When a man's life is unstable, worried, downcast and destabilized, things he does right before will become wrong no matter the best he put in. He lost focus and strength, he become unhappy and angry at everything even if he try to wear a smiling face. Thought of death will come in the scene. He keeps asking the question “why me.” He becomes helpless and even if he's among people, he still feels lonely. Life can be truly unfair. Advise: (Never let your ugly situations weigh you down). When you notice things are not going well, check yourself before it makes you feels worried. (He) cares. Love you.”

Response from friends, even though caring but were mainly an expression of shock, came hours after he committed suicide.

Case 8

In October, 2017, a 16-year-old university student committed suicide by taking in poison after posting on her Facebook page that she wanted to see God's face and speak to him face to face. She wrote “Above all things, I just wanna see God, see what he looks like, speak to him face to face. I don't wanna miss heaven. LORD HELP ME.”

The security of her school reported. “We got a call that one of our students took poison. We got to hospital to realize that she mixed rat poison. She gave us the contact of her parents but before they arrived, she already gave up due to the effect of the poison she took.”

In her case, there was a prompt response from her friends and school authorities, but later on died from the effect of poisons. In her Facebook page, friends' posts were with the theme of mainly regrets that they could have done more when they saw her post.

Case 9

In the late 2018, a 16-year-old secondary school student posted a series of suicidal post on Twitter for about a week on the need to find happiness due to mental health issue and a chronic medical illness, sickle cell anemia. “This year alone, my parents have spent up to 700k on psychiatrist bills but nothing has worked,….” “New antipsychotic medicine is not silencing the voices in my head, it's just silencing me from reacting to them. This doesn't solve the problem, it just tortures me more. Lost interest in everything.”

A classmate of hers responded with caring words that she is available if she needed help. After the incident, the classmate responded: “Two months ago this was… found out today that she has passed away. When I saw the name I instantly remembered this conversation because of her bio that listed everything she was going through at her young age.” “I feel terrible for giving up so soon…. I should have tried harder than just letting her know I was available in case she needed someone to talk to… I should have shown her that I was available however I can….”

Case 10

In October, 2017, a young Nigerian lady posted on her Instagram page: “So many failed attempts.” “No one really cares… Suic*** has been on my mind lately…. It's not like anyone would notice it. I'm no more.” She added: “I'm pretty sure no one would miss me… like I said no one cares… bye ppl.”

Her friends on the social media responded immediately. “If you need someone to talk to, I'm here. What's the problem? We can share your pain together. This is not the right way to solve anything. Don't succumb to the pressure, never ever succumb. Talk to me. I'm listening and if I can do anything to help, I will.”

Now, addressing other Twitter users on her page.

“Please if you know her personally, reach out to her…” “It is only a phase we are all passing through, someone please reach out to her or send me her details.” The friend was sent her number, but there was no response after repeated calls to her number.

Search on major bloggers and online media who reported the story did not reveal if she stopped on her own or was rescued by friends and family, as search on her Twitter handle shows her recent postings.


  Discussion Top


The phenomenon of Facebook announcement of suicide has been increasing, with a number of cases reported in academic literatures. In Switzerland, a 28-year-old male posted the location for the suicide though did not give precise time.[10] Recently, another report from the USA detailed how the social media was used in identifying events leading to an attempted suicide.[11] In the ten cases reported, five received instant caring response from bloggers which led to the rescue and survival of four cases [Table 1]. While in the other cases, none received help or their cries for help were not understood, underestimated, or even seen as a joke. In the first case, one of the friends had alerted other friends on the wall and even through phone about her fear that she might kill herself. However, the friends discouraged her that she was reading too much meaning into a “simple statement” and another added that this woman “I know she will never kill herself.” Thus, the victim missed the opportunity to send for help. In the other two cases, response to their comments came after they committed the suicide, several hours later.
Table 1: Sociodemographic data and responses to social media suicide announcers

Click here to view


In a number of reported cases, individuals have been saved from committing suicide by friends after announcement of their suicidal intention through prompt network of friends and informing the authorities.[9] This was what happened in four of the ten cases presented [Table 1]. However, in another case, even though they informed the authorities, it was, however, too late as the individual committed suicide before help came,[10] similar to case 8. Therefore, this brings to fore the importance of prompt action on any suspiciousness about the warning signs of suicide. The ten individuals had posted suicidal warning signs that were in keeping with the ten warning signs for suicide proposed from a consensus of the American Association of Suicidology.[16] These include suicidal ideation, purposelessness, being trapped, and hopelessness. A number of cases presented stressful situations in terms of conflict with school authorities, mental and medical health challenges, and failure in achieving life's purpose on their walls. The most prevalent predominant themes in the post were that of loneliness/hopelessness and frustration/helplessness [Table 2].
Table 2: Predominant themes in suicidal posting and gender distribution

Click here to view


In Nigeria, because suicide is low,[3],[5] due to stigma about suicide, and because of low mental and suicide literacy,[17],[18] the population might not understand or take serious action toward suicidal warning and therefore, lead to delay in help seeking and referrals. It has been shown that high suicide literacy and low suicide stigma are associated with positive help-seeking attitudes.[19]

Facebook had published a preventive lifeline document to report suicidal users that encourage other users to report on a member's suicidal note.[20],[21] However, possibly because of delay in reporting such incidents and generally members might not understand other nondirect warning signs of suicide, Facebook in 2015 updated its warning system.[22] In this new form, an algorithm of suicidal words or phrases can be flagged when the user posts a message on Facebook indicating suicidal thoughts or intentions with a banner that pops up on the user's page. Once a post is tagged as suicidal, the automatic banner gives two options to either talk to another Facebook member or provides access to resources pertaining to suicide including the number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.[23] The resource also includes tips and links to support videos for the prevention of suicide. A number of helplines are coming up in Nigeria, but they are yet to be linked to any of the popular social media.[24]

Studies have shown that social media such as Twitter and Facebook can be used to identify individuals with suicidal intention.[25] Predictors of future suicide out of all suicidal behaviors among Japanese Twitter users reported a strong association with tweeting “want to commit suicide” than tweeting “want to die.”[25] Twitter has been suggested as a viable tool for the real-time monitoring of suicidal risk factors.[26]

Social media can be a double-edged sword. In a work by Fu et al., it was reported that significant responses of microbloggers to a suicidal attempt were positive and characterized by the effort of caregiving and attempt to offer assistance to the individuals.[15] This is based on the hyperpersonal model of communication for which the caregiving responses may positively address and reinforce a suicidal individual's underlying goal of self-presentation: that is cry for help.[27] This is helped by the fact that individuals may experience a sense of greater co-presence and social attraction to their communication partner in social media when it displays less social cues and thus willing to accept help. In recent years, the examination of language posted on social media has been used to detect individuals at risk for suicide through machine learning algorithm from trait-level and state-level information.[28]

The media itself can be used in reducing stigma associated with suicide and to increase help-seeking behavior and referrals for individuals at risk of suicide.[12],[29] The potential for the prevention of suicide exists if the general population is educated on the warning signs of suicide, and, therefore, may be able to assist individuals when the need arises.

Limitation

The mental health status of an individual before he/she showed warning signs of suicide was not known, and therefore it was not possible to assess his/her mental status. Other studies have shown that not all individuals with suicidal signs will proceed to attempt suicide or complete the suicidal act.[16]


  Conclusion Top


Suicide announcement through social media is being recognized as probably a unique form of suicidal behavior with its potential for the prevention of suicide through early identification of individuals with high suicidal risk. Suicide knowledge and attitude and less stigmatization toward mental illness may help in encouraging help-seeking behavior and the general populations' understanding of suicidal warning signs.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
  References Top

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Baker D, Fortune S. Understanding self-harm and suicide websites: A qualitative interview study of young adult website users. Crisis 2008;29:118-22.  Back to cited text no. 13
    
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Fu KW, Cheng Q, Wong PW, Yip PS. Responses to a self-presented suicide attempt in social media: A social network analysis. Crisis 2013;34:406-12.  Back to cited text no. 15
    
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Rudd MD, Berman AL, Joiner TE Jr., Nock MK, Silverman MM, Mandrusiak M, et al. Warning signs for suicide: Theory, research, and clinical applications. Suicide Life Threat Behav 2006;36:255-62.  Back to cited text no. 16
    
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Atilola O. Level of community mental health literacy in sub-Saharan Africa: Current studies are limited in number, scope, spread, and cognizance of cultural nuances. Nord J Psychiatry 2015;69:93-101.  Back to cited text no. 17
    
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