Suicide rates alarming as world prepares to celebrate international suicide prevention day

World Suicide Prevention Day is observed on September 10 each year to promote worldwide action to prevent suicides. [Courtesy]

Their love story starts in Makueni, the place where he first noticed her and instantly fell in love. It was her wit, and the way she giggled when she talked that got him– she was a real tease; the kind that Sylus Isambwa liked.

He was visiting a friend, and she was an acquaintance.

"I was rushing back to Nairobi, but I knew I had to marry her," he says.

He was 24. She was three years younger. Their text messages are coloured with love emoticons and a long thread of conversations that tell the courtship journey that started two years ago and ended up in marriage when she got pregnant last year.

"When she told me that she is expecting my baby, I told her to come to Rongai so that we start a family," he says with a smile.

The smile fades when he starts talking about "the little blunder" she made; her attempted suicide last month that has now put a pause in their love story.

As the world celebrates international day for suicide prevention tomorrow, his wife will be fighting for life at Kenyatta National hospital's intensive care unit.  She was admitted after she lodged a knife on her throat three days after their baby was born.

Doctors called it psychosis brought by post-natal depression. Isambwa calls it a shift to their new marriage – one they hoped would blossom till death parts them.

He had stepped out to buy beef bones to make her soup.

 "She was worried that the baby will die without milk. I walked to almost ten butcheries looking for bones. When I found them, I called to give her the good news, but her phone was off," he says.

On arriving home, her phone was on the floor, sim card thrown under the table. When he checked the bedroom, she was lying in a pool of blood.

"I held her and I saw the knife in her throat…" he says, his voice rising with urgency, as if reliving the moment.

There was a hole on her neck gushing with blood. Doctors stitched her but she later developed breathing problems and ended in ICU.

" The bill is now 710,000. I do not know how we will pay it, but I don't want her to know I am worried. It might push her to do it again," he says.

He refers to the suicide attempt as ‘it’. The word hangs unsaid in the entire interview. He says he worries over what would have happened if she had not walked in just in time.  

Psychologists say changes in hormones during puberty and pregnancy can cause instability in mental health, making them predisposed to depression and suicide.

Isambwa believes his wife will get better, and they will start over with deeper knowledge on mental health and how to handle stress.

"When she recovers, I will be here waiting. I hope she won’t do it again," he says.

Teresa Achieng lost her brother Joel Amadi two years ago. He was a 32 year and had sailed through school scoring nothing short of grade A.

"He started applying for jobs before he finished university," says Achieng.

He hated life's twists that allowed friends who had gotten lower grades to secure jobs before him. He went to a recruitment agency and had his resume written by professionals, but it yielded nothing.

By the time he was settling for a job as a sales person in a privately owned company, he was showing signs of depression.

"On weekends when I was leaving, he would tell me to lock the house from outside and go with the key because he was sure he would not go out," she says.

He became a loner who lost interest in things he previously enjoyed; like watching movies with family, or taking his sister's car for a drive out of town.

A few days before Christmas, they found him dangling on his tie from the roof.

"The emotions come in waves. You get angry, then sad, and then regrets come. You wonder if you should grieve, or focus on their selfishness," she says. ?

Teresa says cultural beliefs that deny people who have committed suicide a decent burial made it more difficult.

“From when police cut the noose and his body fell with a loud thud, to how they insisted that I have to cane his body because I am the one who found him…it was traumatic…,” she says.

Dr. Susan Gitau, psychologist and counsellor says culture is not the only discriminator to people who are suicidal. Insurance companies do not cater for medical expenses of people who attempted suicide, even when they present with mental illnesses.

“They say you brought it to yourself so they are not paying for it,” she says.

She advises that people should not ignore social media messages where posters threaten suicide.

In April, Gerald Mwangi penned a long facebook update threatening to kill himself.

“I think my time in this world is over. I have been through enough but am done,” read part of the post. A few hours later, he was gone.

“The posts are equivalent for suicide notes people used to write. Reach out as soon as you see an alarming update from a friend,” says Dr. Gitau.

Trends show that suicide is not a reserve for the poor and desolate. Kenyans were shocked when budding script writer Ashina Kibibi who scriped “Tausi”, a soap opera that dominated screens in the 90s was found hanging.

The recent suicide of Egesa FM comedian and radio presenter Joseph Mochere alias Okebiro O' Mose brought into surface the reality that depression can creep on those who project a happy life.

Last year, while acknowledging the need to address rising suicides in the country, the government launched a prevention through screening for early detection, access to treatment and care for persons with suicidal behaviour.