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Characteristics of Suicidal Behaviour in Contemporary Ghana

Epidemiologic Characteristics of Suicidal Behaviour in Contemporary Ghana. Mensah Adinkrah. Crisis 2011: Vol.32(1):31-36

Suicidal behaviour is a crime in Ghana and if unsuccessful it can result in arrest, prosecution and criminal penalties.

In contrast, support and help is offered to an individual who has attempted suicide and failed in the United Kingdom.

Dr Mensah Adinkrah, Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at Central Michigan University, USA, explored the characteristics of individuals who committed suicide in Ghana by looking at all cases of suicide recorded on the police database between 2006- 2008.

He found out that 243 individuals committed suicide in those 3 years while 44 individuals tried but failed. Despite these numbers, Ghana still has a low rate of suicide compared to the western world because suicide is perceived as a social and religious taboo.

More males than females attempted and successfully committed suicide. The rate in males was 20 times higher than in females.

The gender distribution for attempted suicide in Ghana is different from those of industrialized countries where the rates are higher in females. This difference maybe because Ghanaian women are religious and this is a strong protective factor against suicide.

Motherhood is also a recognized protective factor and most women in Ghana have several children. They are also more likely to seek help and speak about their problems. Women have limited access and knowledge about the use of guns.

Suicidal behaviour was more common in the age group 20-29 years and 30-39 years.

The individuals who completed suicide were mostly from a low socioeconomic background. The commonest method used was hanging followed by shooting with firearms and ingestion of insecticides and acid.

In cases of unsuccessful suicide attempts, the most common method was cutting with a sharp object followed by poisonous ingestion.

Suicide commonly occurred in the home or near it.

There was a higher rate of suicide between July and September possibly due to an economic downturn around this time because of heavy rainfall.

The rate of suicide was lowest in December possibly due to Christmas celebrations and end of the year festivities but the rates increased in January possibly due to austerity from overspending in December.

Dr Adinkrah recognized that he may not have captured the complete data due to poor reporting practices.

By law all cases of death outside a medical facility in Ghana must be certified by a medical doctor and reported to the police and a coroner if the cause of death is unclear. A post-mortem must then be done by a pathologist. It is expected that with this rigorous process the police database will be accurate but this is not always the case.

There is always the chance that some suicides will be misclassified as accidents, illnesses or unexplained deaths especially as there is a shortage of pathologists in Ghana to carry out autopsies on suspicious deaths.

Some families and suicidal individuals know that suicide is a criminal offence and often attempt to avoid detection. Others are unaware of their responsibities regarding reporting to the authorities and so do not do so.

In the absence of a body, the death could be recorded as a missing person case. The absence of a suicide note also contributes to the low detection rates.

Other factors include stigma and the fear of being blamed or accused of murder. Also, it can be a costly venture to commute to a police station for those individuals who live in the remote villages.

With this knowledge, health care practitioners who come in contact with bereaved families or individuals who have attempted suicide and failed should actively encourage them to report the incident to the authorities.

When assessing a patient, we should apply the results of this study by considering that a young male, from a poor socioeconomic background ,who has easy access to firearms i.e. a farmer, has no religious affiliations and is putting on a “brave “ face is at higher risk of completed suicide. We should offer as much support as our resources will allow.

Perhaps we should also test out the theories and assumptions in this research as to true suicide rates and the differences between men and women thus increasing our overall knowledge on this important topic. . Sadly, the rate of suicide and attempted suicide is high in the UK and one wonders whether the increasing commercialization and urbanization occurring will lead to similar increases in Ghana.

The full article can be downloaded from:

The full article can be downloaded from:  but it's not free and it can't be accessed from Africa via Hinari either.  If you would like to try asking the publishers if they would let you have a free copy you could try via their email address