Mental Health: At What Point Do We Decide that Someone Really Needs Our Help?
By Daniel Kakuru.
In May 2019, Chukwuemeka Akachi, a twenty – one year old student at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka committed suicide.
He had, by the time of his dissolution, enjoyed a stint in the limelight as a writer of poetry and short fiction. His poem, Meeting My Therapist, had just been published in the debut issue of the Kabaka Magazine, a gay pride and queer arts project.
His short story, Sixteen Notes On How To End A Life, had also been nominated for the 2018 Chronicles Short Story Prize. He had been longlisted in the Okike Prize for poetry and had also boasted of space in the honourable mentions.
He was the poetry editor at The Muse, a creative and critical writing journal at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. This (The Muse) is probably Africa’s longest surviving students’ journal.
At his send-off, his friends said Akachi was a life that promised so much but delivered so little. They said he was a young man that dreamt dreams and did not wake up to chase them. They broke down and wailed like babies. But what is there to do when one has killed oneself?
Akachi died the third time he attempted to take his life. First, he used kerosene but it didn’t work. Neither did petrol when he chose it at his second attempt. But an insecticide called Sniper did the trick when he downed two bottles. On his Facebook page was a suicide note; an apology to whoever would find his body.
His life was a journey from the nose to the eye – short and uneventful. It was a build up towards the inevitable. He battled depression and its roots could be traced back to a childhood during which he endured abuse by his mother and sister in the absence of his father.
Little wonder, whenever he picked up his pen to write, he wrote about sadness; about death; about a god that looks away while mortal men suffer. He lost his faith, wrote about it, attempted suicide, wrote about it and eventually coined out a genre of his own.
Whenever he wrote about his inner battles with mental health on Facebook, he was gagged. He despaired, cried and begged for help, but it didn’t come. Instead, he was called things: loser; weak man; attention seeker. But such is the stigma associated with mental illness in the black community.
It was only when he succeeded in killing himself that everyone realised poor Akachi should have been helped.
Do you remember Chester Bennington? He announced himself onto the scene in the early 2000s as a powerhouse of voice in Linkin Park, one of the greatest rock bands on earth. Throughout his life, he was open about his struggles with depression, addiction and drug abuse.
In almost every interview, he spoke about his inner pain, pleaded for help, but it hardly came.
His was also a turbulent childhood. Up to the age of thirteen, he had been enduring sexual abuse by a much older female, prompting him to turn to drugs for help. Before eighteen, he had abused cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and worse things.
Little wonder, he got carried away by the storm these drugs always bring and by the time he tried to turn back, it was too late. The addictions had grown much stronger than the will to quit.
Chester strangled himself in July, 2017. His widow blamed herself for his death. Today, she still believes she should have done more to save him from himself. She wishes she had known what she knows now, and he would have lived longer, to paint his name in the books of history.
There were enough warnings and she didn’t pay much attention to them; she didn’t take them seriously. But such is the regret that follows unfortunate events. We always go back to our past and wish we had turned that particular stone.
Chester’s death came shortly after that of Chris Cornell, the Soundgarden frontman. Both died by suicide. Whereas Cornell eliminated himself in May, Chester did in July. It was at the former’s send-off that the latter made his last live performance, the best in his lifetime.
It is likely, he hatched the plan to finish himself off on that day and nobody saw through him; nobody muscled in to disrupt him.
Jeffrey Epstein’s story is not so different. He was an American teacher who later metamorphosed into an economist. By the time of his imminent death, he was a convict in a Manhattan federal prison facing charges bordering on sex trafficking.
He killed himself in August, 2019 in a prison cell where he was staying alone on suicide watch while the guards supposed to be watching him slumbered. One week earlier, he had tried to strangle himself and failed.
He had been assigned a new room of his own with guards to check on him every after thirty minutes. But on the night of his demise, the guards had slept off. The inevitable happened and by the time he was found unconscious, it was too late to save him.
When the world crumbles down on people and they become suicidal, the pattern of events is always similar: the hopelessness; the sudden change in behavior; the self isolation.
These are signs that do not take long to be noticed. It is our collective responsibility to reach out to them and offer a helping hand whenever we can. We should not wait till they are dead so that we collect condolences and type, “R.I.P” or “Gone too soon.”
Suicide and self harm are preventable.
Such is the situation we are grappling with in one of the circles I belong to. Over forty hours ago, a classmate of ours took to his Facebook page, posted a grotesque picture of his crying self and announced that he now fears this life more than he fears death.
As if that was not enough, he slid into each of his friends’ private inbox and begged for help. The message he sent was similar: “Hi bro, please help me get a job so that I can earn a living. Life is now too difficult for me to handle.”
When his issue was tabled before our virtual WhatsApp group which is a home for more than a hundred active members, it was unanimously agreed upon that we pool some resources together, help him travel from Namisindwa District to Kampala where he will try his luck in capturing a vacant job opportunity.
As I type this, my eyes are clouded with tears. Over thirty hours after the topic was brought up, nobody has donated a coin. Right now, the said brother is deep in the bowels of Namisindwa District probably looking for the quickest means of terminating a fruitless life.
His trusted circle of friends are in the know of what is going on in his life, but are unable to contribute anything tangible to his survival.
God forbid, but I am sure that if he were to be pronounced dead, we would wake up and immediately raise millions of shillings in form of condolences. And that is the irony of life. Before death strikes, we are never convinced that someone is really held against the wall and is in need of help.
The author Daniel Kakuru is a lover of stories and social commentary. He believes that he is no more valuable than a mug of porridge. He writes under a Facebook hashtag #MugOfPorridge and blogs at danielkakuru.wordpress.com