The Society of Family Physicians of Ghana (SOFPOG) has called on the executive, legislature, and the judiciary to consider reviewing laws that criminalise attempted suicide in Ghana.
The Society said government and other law enforcement agencies must focus on measures that will provide the framework for suicide prevention and the management of persons who attempt suicide rather than prosecuting them.
The concerns were highlighted at a sensitisation programme on depression and suicide as part of the World Family Doctor Day celebration.
This year's celebration is on the theme: “Depression and Suicide – The Role of the Family Physician.”
Speaking to journalists on the sidelines of the celebration at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH) in Kumasi, the National Organiser of SOFPOG, Dr Fred Bedzrah, said majority of people who attempt suicide have serious mental health conditions and require medical attention.
“Currently as it stands, attempted suicide is a criminal offence but what we know is that people who attempt suicide have serious mental health issues and should be supported to seek treatment to seek help other than prosecuting them. So decriminalisation of attempted suicide is one of our main focus – to look out for signs of depression in these teenage girls and boys because teen depression is very difficult to tackle… Early detection of depression and early intervention will prevent the stage where they will commit suicide. Already, we all know depression is treatable, we can manage depression and they will move in the environment and do their daily activities without any sign that this person is depressed,” he stated.
Dr Bedzrah also cautioned the media to be circumspect when reporting issues relating to suicide. According to him, such reportage has the tendency of increasing suicide cases since procedures used in committing the act are laid bare.
“The mode of suicide as being reported by the media is another worrying trend. We call something copycat suicide and we call something contagion suicide. These are things that we risk having in our society if we keep reporting the modes of suicide and all the suicide issues around the country. Copycat suicide is when people see the mode of suicide and feel that ‘this is a very cool way of killing myself’ so he goes on to kill himself using the same method. There are lots of people who don’t really know what to do in committing suicide. Some want it easy and they fear hanging which is very common…but they don’t even know how to tie the rope. But when the media report all the modes, then people are now going to copy those modes of suicide,” he explained.
“Also, contagion suicide is where it becomes a trend. People become famous for committing suicide and others want to have that fame by also committing suicide and being reported in the media. So we would be very happy if there is circumspection in the reportage of suicide in the media.”
The Society, as part of the celebration, visited some selected senior high schools in Kumasi to sensitise students on teen depression.
SOFPOG recommended the incorporation of education of patients on depression and interventions into the country's educational programmes in primary care settings.
They called on persons and their relatives with any mental health challenge to seek early care in registered health facilities in the country.