Some 703,000 people die by suicide every year globally, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) affirms that suicide was the fourth leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds in 2019.
In Kenya, the WHO data estimates that 408 people die by suicide yearly. However, the figures could be high due to underreporting since it is stigmatised.
The WHO further says the number of suicides reported in Kenya rose by 58 percent between 2008-17 to reach 421. The report showed that more men were likely to die due to suicide than women. Out of the 421 suicide cases in 2017, 330 were men.
Kenya loses about four lives to suicide every day.
Research shows for every suicide, 135 people are personally affected, which means that in a year, suicide affects up to 6.3 million people. Out of 175 countries, Kenya is ranked 114th in the World Population Review, placing it among the nations with high suicide cases globally. These are just statistics. Behind every number, there is a person, memories and life.
In Kenya, the rise in suicide cases has been a cause of concern as many people have taken their lives due to various reasons. On September 10, 2021, during World Suicide Prevention Day, health officials and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) said economic woes, a lack of empowerment and mental distress increase the likelihood of suicides.
Dr Rashid Aman, the Health CAS, said economic difficulties and feelings of hopelessness, which have led to mental health breakdown in most people, had compounded the situation.
“In recent times, we have been going through a very difficult time with many stresses due to the current pandemic that we are experiencing. Our young people are experiencing unemployment as well as heightened anxiety levels — leading to increased use of alcohol, breakups in relationships and the upsurge in domestic violence,” he said.
However, political leaders and the government are yet to mainstream the issue.
The Kenyan law criminalises suicide. Health experts have been urging the government to instead invest in mental health programmes.
The Health ministry’s task force on mental health produced a report calling on the government to “amend or repeal discriminatory and derogatory laws”.
Dr Chitayi Murabula, the president of the Kenya Psychiatric Association says the numbers are likely to be much higher than the official tallies because the attempt to commit suicide has been criminalised in Kenya.
According to a KNCHR report, efforts to address the root causes of suicide are hampered by the criminalisation of attempted suicide.
This law as it stands now is a hindrance to people living with suicidal thoughts because the knowledge that it is a criminal offence makes them go into hiding rather than seek help.
Perhaps it’s time we change the law criminalising suicide to at least allow the police officers to help families take their relatives or other members of the society who attempt suicide to the hospitals without fear of arrest so that they can facilitate rather than hinder access to treatment.
To the men, seek guidance and counselling anytime you face difficulties in life.