Are Kenyans Depressed? Worrying Trends in Suicide

  • Silhoutte figure of man holding hanging rope.
    Silhouette figure of a man contemplating suicide.
    Gulf Today
  • In recent times, the Kenyan media have been accused of either publishing or broadcasting a little too many stories that would be considered shocking; from suicides, gruesome murders to horrific murder-suicides. 

    In the month of February 2020 alone, a couple of disquieting stories have grabbed the headlines. Images shared widely on social media tell stories of families torn apart by the inexplicable loss of their loved ones.

    Most, rarely recover from the trauma of discovering the lifeless bodies of their kins dangling from ropes, or sprawled on the floor - in most cases, they are found in intimate spaces rich with memories of the happy times. 

    Journalists covering these stories have to contend with the ethical dilemma of intruding into the grief of relatives, what to report and not to on the nature of suicides, as well as deal with the mental torture of having to deal with these traumatising events - many, as the audience too, have become numb. 

    Living a lie

    On Saturday, February 8, the country woke up to the shocking news of the death of award-winning Kenyan gospel musician Dennis Mwangi, popularly known as Papa Dennis.

    The Nashukuru hitmaker's body was discovered by the roadside in Pangani, Nairobi on the night of Friday, February 7.

    The cause of death remains unclear with the police yet to establish if he committed suicide by jumping off the building or whether he was thrown off the balcony. 

    Some of his close friends, while addressing the media, painted a now all-too-familiar picture of a musician struggling to makes ends meet.

    "He was very humble and talented. Sadly, just like any other musician, he never invested the cash. He lived large and when he finally parted ways with Maliza Umaskini, he had nothing," BBC journalist Roncliff Odit stated.

    Award-winning Kenyan gospel musician Dennis Mwangi alias Papa Dennis' who died on Saturday, February 8
    Award-winning Kenyan gospel musician Dennis Mwangi alias Papa Dennis' who died on Saturday, February 8
    Facebook

    Fired, Never Recovered

    On Tuesday, February 18, the body of a former GSU officer from Kapkiamo in Baringo North was found hanging from a tree near his home, leaving area residents in shock.

    Mark Kirui is said to have left a suicide note stating that he had been unfairly dismissed from work.

    "I served under the National Police Service for 14 years and you can’t tell me missing work for just 10 days amounts to job dismissal as it happened to me.

    "The reason behind this is that my brothers and sister stayed away from me. Life has been hard for me since I left the Service. I am very sorry to the entire family and community at large for my demise,” read the heartbraking suicide note in part.

Loan Apps

In one of the most bizarre cases revealed in early February, the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) was jolted into action after a middle-aged man took his own life after being driven to the edge by an aggressive mobile lending company. 

The suicide was apparently fuelled by the abrasive tactics digital lenders use to recover debts owed by Kenyans.

CBK Deputy Governor Sheila M’Mbijjewe revealed that the financial regulator was drafting a bill that would cover digital mobile lenders to curb the exorbitant interest rates, as well as harassment and public shaming by digital lending apps. 

Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) Governor Patrick Njoroge with his deputy Sheila M’Mbijiwe in Parliament buildings on February 26, 2019.
Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) Governor Patrick Njoroge with his deputy Sheila M’Mbijiwe in Parliament buildings on February 26, 2019.
Daily Nation

Period-Shaming

Back in September 2019, a 14-year-old made national headlines after she committed suicide for, arguably, one of the most avoidable reasons. Jackline Chepng’eno, a pupil at Kabiangek Primary School in Bomet County hanged herself after her teacher ridiculed her for soiling her dress on the onset of her periods.

She is said to have committed suicide moments after she told her parents of the ordeal.

Disputing the allegations, the Teacher's Service Commission (TSC) revealed that on the fateful day, there were 77 packets of sanitary pads in the store.

The above only represent a tip of the iceberg that is 'silent epidemic' in the country. One telling story is the curious case of a shocking 75 suicides in a single village, Shamata, in Murang'a County in 2017 alone. 

The coffin containing the body of a 14-year-old Jackline Chepngeno, a Class Six pupil at Kabiangek primary school in Bomet who committed suicide.
The coffin containing the body of a 14-year-old Jackline Chepngeno, a Class Six pupil at Kabiangek primary school in Bomet who committed suicide.
Daily Nation

Mental Health

The Ministry of Health released a report on World Mental Health Day 2019, elucidating that the most common suicide risk factors were; genetic, biochemical, psychological, social and cultural, sometimes, combined with experiences of trauma and loss. The ministry further revealed that depression was the most common psychiatric condition prevalent in people who die by suicide.

Frederick Wekesa, a research officer at the African Population Health Research Centre (APHRC) lists previous suicide attempts, drug abuse disorders, life catastrophes such as financial crises, experiencing conflict, disaster, violence, abuse, or loss and a sense of isolation as well as negative use of social media and cyberbullying as some of the risk factors for suicide. 

Warning signs

Some of the warning signs of suicide according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness include; 

1.) Increased alcohol and drug use; 

Individuals with alcohol and substance abuse disorders such as cannabis and cocaine use are at a higher risk of committing suicide than those who are not substance abusers.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that there were important gaps in information about the role of intoxication by various drugs on suicide attempts.

2.) Aggressive behavior

The presence of an aggressive disorder is said to increase the risk of suicide attempts and mortality.

3.) Withdrawal from friends, family, and community

In case a loved one or a friend keeps to themselves, it is good to check up on them as it is a sign of suicide.

4.) Dramatic mood swings

Patients suffering from bipolar disorder usually have dramatic mood swings from depression to irritability or euphoria and other symptoms.

If the patients are not treated, they are at a greater risk for suicide.

The National Mental Health Association reports that 30%-70% of suicide victims have suffered from a form of depression. 

How Can I help?

Dr Mucheru Wang’ombe, a mental health consultant, told Kenyans.co.ke that young adults and the elderly are more prone to committing suicide, adding that more females attempt the act but clarified that more males see it through to the end.

“Men use lethal means such as hanging, shooting themselves or poisoning,” she stated.

Below are some of the ways you can help a person with suicidal thoughts;

1.) Show support
Listen to them without being judgemental or dismissive of what your friend is sharing.

2.) Listen
Be willing to lend an ear as your friends vent out their problems. Listening is enough to lighten someone's moods.

3.) Ask the person if they are having suicidal thoughts
Studies have shown that asking someone you are worried or concerned about if they are contemplating suicide is helpful.

Asking the question gives valuable information on how to go about helping the person.

4.) Avoid trying to solve the problem

Listen to their problem but do not belittle their feelings and thoughts. Offer your empathy and compassion for what they are feeling without making any judgments.

This can help the person feel loved and appreciated.

5.) Educate them on mental health professionals
Mental health professionals who may be consulted include psychiatrists and clinical psychologists.

Having suicidal thoughts could also be considered as a health emergency and it is important to enroll a person you are worried about to seek professional help.

Leading youth killer?

WHO reports that 800,000 people kill themselves yearly worldwide, which means that 1 person commits suicide every 40 seconds!

Even more shocking is the fact that suicide has been singled out as the second leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds.

While cases of suicide are poorly recorded in Kenya, the upsurge in the coverage of suicide-related deaths is an important indicator of the urgency with which resources ought to be deployed to reduce these otherwise preventable deaths.

In November 2019, President Uhuru Kenyatta directed the Ministry of Health to come up with a taskforce charged with generating a report on the status of mental health in the country.

The president also asked the taskforce to come up with policies to address the various issues raised in their report.

When Kenyans.co.ke spoke to the Ministry of Health to ascertain if the special committee was created, Judy Sirma, a communications officer at the ministry, explained that the report was yet to be completed.

"They are still writing the report, once done, they will hand it over to the president," she stated.

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