Health & Fitness

The tell-tale signs of suicidal tendencies

suicide
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Summary

  • Two years ago, the Mental Health Taskforce found and reported that there is a very high burden of mental disorders in Kenya.
  • The high number of cases is not in doubt and has been recorded in both popular and scientific publications.
  • The number of young men and women who now present themselves to mental health experts has increased dramatically in the last five years.

QUESTION: A lot of cases of suicide among youths have been reported lately. What are the tell-tale signs of a suicidal person?

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As many in Kenya already know, May is the Mental Health Awareness Month.

The Kenya Psychiatric Association (KPA) commemorates May by engaging the public in this most important of conversations and many have already noticed an increased frequency of activity on all media platforms including television interviews, print media opinion pieces, and most importantly for the younger people, postings on social media.

The number of tweets and tweet chats during May has seen a dramatic increase in the last few years. Dr Boniface Chitayi, president of the KPA while launching activities for this year said members of the association would not relent in their resolve to educate Kenyans on mental health issues in general, and suicide in particular. This is the commitment of all psychiatrists in Kenya.

You have made the observation that there is a definite increase in the number of cases of suicide reported in the media among the youth in Kenya in the recent past and indeed as you must know, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among youth aged 15 to 29.

What you might not know, is that 50 percent of all mental disorders are clinically recognisable by the age of 14 and that by the age of 24, 75 percent of all mental disorders would have made themselves evident.

In practice, this means that not only is your question most apt, but more importantly, if we are to do anything meaningful to prevent the escalation of this problem in Kenya, the time to start is now, and the place to start is in primary and secondary schools.

Two years ago, the Mental Health Taskforce found and reported that there is a very high burden of mental disorders in Kenya. The report also found that there is a high prevalence of stigma among Kenyans and that in addition, the number of resources allocated to mental health in the country, is shamefully low.

These three realities are at least in part to blame for the fact that we in Kenya have witnessed increasing cases of suicide in the youth.

The high number of cases is not in doubt and has been recorded in both popular and scientific publications. It is, however, not at all clear what the leading cause(s) for this observation might be. Some have blamed pressure applied to the youth by the demands of modern life while others have blamed poor parenting.

Still, others have blamed the educational system that is said to put too much pressure on children while at the same time denying them the 9 to 10 hours of sleep required for a normal adolescent. Almost every observer lays emphasis on his own perspective regarding causation, and it is probable that many are at least partially right.

The fact of stigmatisation is also self-evident and serves to drive health-seeking behaviour for mental health backward. That said, however, I can state with confidence that among the youth, the battle against the stigma of mental health is showing evidence of victory.

The number of young men and women who now present themselves to mental health experts has increased dramatically in the last five years, thanks to the social media engagement between various mental health experts and the youth.

Sadly, many parents continue to stand between their children and health-seeking behaviour in the process frustrating them to the point of suicide in a few cases!

Suicide in the youth is also driven by the fact that attempted suicide is a criminal offence in Kenya, a fact that also prevents people with suicidal thoughts form seeking care.

The KPA and many of its partners have gone a long way in engaging all stakeholders in repealing this stigmatising legal provision.

The fact that Kenya invests about 15cents per person per annum is reported in the report of the taskforce. This ridiculous situation is also part of the reason for your observation.

The report recommends that a figure of Sh150 per person per annum would help in dealing with this huge gap in investment.

The Ministry of Health with its partners recently completed a study (Investment Case) that conclusively demonstrates the return on investing on the mental health of the youth.

As you can see, we are in this problem of increasing cases of suicide among the youth despite all the knowledge we have at our disposal.

Your question, however, is the evidence that you and other Kenyans have noted the problem and hopefully, you will work with others to help us all in dealing with this challenge.