Suicide watch

March 16, 2017
Source: Esther A. Armah/
Suicide watch

Suicides. 10 in 14 days. So, screamed the headline in a daily newspaper. One was a 14-year-old girl. One newspaper showed a gruesome image of a man hanging from a tree, his face barely pixeled out. Suicide. On radio this week, I listened as a guest claimed marriage was the antidote to suicide.

His argument? All those who had committed this tragic act were single. His logic? Singledom meant a level of despair that may conclude with tragic consequences. Such perspective makes for provocative morning talk show radio fodder. What evidence exists to support such a claim?

He didn’t bother with evidence. And no-one on air challenged him to provide any. Provocative commentary might make for salacious morning talk show fodder, but the issue deserves more care.

Let’s explore some research. A March 2000 study shows divorced men are more likely to commit suicide. The study is called: ‘"Marital Status and Suicide in the National Longitudinal Mortality Study," by Augustine J. Kposowa, Ph.D., at the University of California at Riverside.

It was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Given the morning show guest’s clumsy predictions, the study made for interesting findings. For the entire sample, higher risks of suicide were found in divorced than in married individuals. Divorced and separated persons were over twice as likely to commit suicide as married individuals. Being single or widowed had no significant effect on suicide risk.

Among women, there was no statistical difference in the risk of suicide by marital status. In conclusion, elevated risks of suicide were observed among divorced and separated men, but not among women.   This study was among American men and women.

In Ghana, attempted suicide is currently a crime. You are officially guilty of a misdemeanor if you attempt suicide. I don’t know how criminalizing despair serves someone who may be suicidal, or indeed their family. Criminalizing emotionality indicates how little society understands suicide. Shouldn’t this be an emotional health or a mental health issue and not one of law and order?

Putting those who are in emotional despair through the expensive legislative system does exactly what to the growing suicide statistics? This is a public health issue. It requires study; and those impacted require care. Care, not crime, is the way forward here.

There is of course more than one kind of suicide. We can have political suicide. The government’s massively publicized Free SHS has already provoked calls to delay what is being considered by some as an inevitable failure that may result in political suicide.  Or if not suicide, a one term government. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has advised the government to defer the Free SHS policy implementation, until it gets adequate funding.

The think tank’s call for delay speaks to the single greatest issue for getting things done by government: adequate funding to effectively complete a project. The think tank’s  concern is lower educational standard due to major uptake and poor funding.

The think tank further argues that a 2017 academic year roll out could be catastrophic. They say public finances would be seriously strained at a time when fiscal discipline is the order of this government. Here’s a particular challenge: can we adapt a both/and approach?

At what point will fiscal discipline be satisfactory? And at what point would projects requiring money become a viable option to pursue?  Hard questions. There really isn’t an easy or satisfactory answer. Certainly, in his Budget the Finance Minister was vague regarding exactly how the Free SHS policy would be paid for. He noted ‘domestic funds’ would be the source for this policy’s funding.

That lack of specificity did not assuage my fears. My one specific need in this budget was to hear exactly how Free SHS would be paid for.

The government is caught between the rock of great expectation and the hard place of a seeming lack of adequate funding. Their stated costs of GHC400 million are expected to be met by the Annual Budget Funding Amount (the ABFA).

The inevitable increase in numbers of uptake from JHS to SHS is an additional concern, as are adequate teaching facilities, classroom allocation, educational texts and equipment. All valid. Despite the think tank’s concerns, I believe the government should go ahead with the Free SHS policy. 

Juggling financial management, competence and multiple projects are all necessary skills required by an effective Finance Minister. Let him demonstrate his skills as this policy rapidly descends on us all.

The end of a political life can hardly be compared to the end of a human one. But, if it does happen, political suicide should be the result of incompetence or corruption, not despair. When it comes to policy implementation, too often the promise of delivery stops at the word promise. 

Our society is too often satisfied by mediocrity in political leadership. We have rarely held our government’s feet to the fire of policy delivery, and as a result we the people lose.

So, the government faces its first test. Free SHS or perish!  At the very least, we should extract a political price for failure to deliver.

We the people rarely require politicians pay for their transgressions, corruption or incompetence with a total loss of the privileges politics brings. 

Ogas rarely lose. Only the people lose. 

And that is the real shame.