Prof. Akotia Advocates for Change in Attitudes Towards Suicide

Professor Charity Sylvia Akotia, Former Dean, School of Social Sciences, has delivered the first inaugural lecture for the 2022/2023 academic year. The lecture was on the topic: “When Life Becomes Unbearable: Dynamics and Complexities of Suicidal Behaviour and Prevention in a Cultural Context” .  

Drawing on over two decades of research, Prof. Sylvia Akotia discussed her motivation for researching on suicidal behaviour and its prevention, statistics on suicide and the dynamics and complexities of suicidal behaviour.  

In her presentation, Prof. Charity Sylvia Akotia explained that life’s complexities such as loss of a loved one, inability to fend for one’s family, unemployment, illness, relationship break-ups are unbearable and very challenging for some people, who in the spur of the moment or after days of contemplation, carry out the act of suicide. 

A cross-section of participants at the Lecture

She called to attention statistics put out by World Health Organisation (WHO), which indicate that approximately over 77% of global suicides occur in low and middle income countries. The WHO 2019 report, she said, stated that suicide was the fourth leading cause of death globally, amongst 15-29 year olds. She noted that according to the Ghana Health Service 2021 Report, a four-year suicide trend in Ghana shows that there were 707, 880 and 777 suicide attempts in 2018, 2019 and 2020 respectively. As of June 2021, there had been 417 attempted suicides in the country. 

Prof. Akotia emphasised the need for a change in attitudes towards suicides particularly in Africa since attitudes affect both the content and efficiency of suicidal interventions. 

Prof. Sylvia Akotia delivering the Lecture

To address suicide prevention in Ghana, Prof. Akotia recommended decriminalising suicide attempts to encourage persons in distress to seek help while easing the collection of accurate data for intervention and planning purposes. She further recommended engaging in awareness creation to demystify suicide; by speaking about suicide in a preventative manner, people would seek help. 

The lecturer also advocated for the establishment of a national suicide preventive centre to collate information on all aspects of suicidal behaviour; this information could be used to plan prevention programmes for the populace. 

Prof. Akotia stressed the importance of adopting a public health approach to focus on prevention and promotion of community mental health, whereby persons in suicidal crisis can be referred to professionals for support. She also encouraged the enrolment and involvement of religious leaders in preventing suicide in Ghana as they provide hope through counselling to persons in suicidal crises. 

A cross-section of participants at the Lecture

Prof. Charity Sylvia Akotia concluded her lecture with a reminder to the audience that suicide is preventable. She implored all individuals in challenging situations to seek assistance.  

In her closing remarks, the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Nana Aba Appiah Amfo, congratulated Prof. Akotia on a stimulating lecture. She was glad Prof. Akotia and her team had moved into advocacy and training, to enlighten Ghanaians on the role society must play in preventing suicide attempts. She reiterated that suicide is preventable and not an option.  

Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Nana Aba Appiah Amfo

Earlier, in her opening remarks, the Director of Public Affairs, Mrs. Elizier T. Ameyaw-Buronyah, who represented the Registrar, Mrs. Emelia Agyei-Mensah, welcomed the audience and said, “inaugural lectures form an essential component of the University’s programme for an academic year and every academic who rises to the rank of a full Professor in his or her career in the University of Ghana is expected to deliver an inaugural lecture”. Mrs. Ameyaw-Buronyah also stated that inaugural lectures offered the University an opportunity to showcase and celebrate the achievements of faculty as they share their research with colleagues within and outside the University. 

Several presentations were made by friends, family and members of the University community to celebrate Prof. Akotia’s achievements. 

Prof. Akotia receiving a presentation after her lecture

The Ghana Dance Ensemble also graced the occasion with exciting cultural performances as well as seperewa appellation to herald the lecture. 

The Ghana Dance Ensemble in a cultural performance

As a prelude to Prof. Charity Sylvia Akotia’s inaugural lecture, a week-long exhibition of her works on Gender, Suicide Prevention, Media, and Suicide, among others was held at the Balme Library.  

Prof. Akotia cutting tape at the Opening of an exhibition of her scholarly works

The lecture was attended by Her Ladyship Justice Prof. Henrietta Mensah-Bonsu, Justice of the Supreme Court and former Director of the Legon Centre for International Affairs and Diplomacy (LECIAD); Professor John Ofosu-Anim, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Central University College and former Dean of the School of Agriculture; Dr. Isaac Owusu Mensah, Director of Research, Office of the President and former Senior Lecturer at the Department of Political Science; and traditional authorities from the Otsyordibo Clan, Logba Tota of the Volta Region. 

A cross-section of participants at the Lecture

Also in attendance were Mr. Daniel Nunoo, former CEO, Shell Ghana; members of the University community; the 1980 Graduating Class of the Nkonya Secondary School; the media fraternity, the family of Prof. Akotia and the general public.