How depression lurks among us and suicides claim our loved ones

Their 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 Imelda Mumbua was an acquaintance. “I was rushing back to Nairobi, but I knew I had to marry her,” he says.

He was 24 and 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.

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“When she told me that she was 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” Imelda made; her attempted suicide last month that has now put a pause in their love story.

As the world marks international day for suicideprevention tomorrow, Isambwa’s wife will be fighting for her 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 in their new marriage -– one they hoped would blossom till death do their part.

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

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“She was worried that the baby will die without milk. I walked to almost 10 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, Imelda’s 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 sad moment.

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

“The bill is now Sh710,000. 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.

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

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

How to handle stress

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 32 and had sailed through school, scoring nothing short of Grade A.

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“He started applying for jobs before he graduated from university,” Achieng says.

He hated life’s twists that allowed friends who had got 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 private 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,” Achieng says.

Amadi 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,” Achieng says.

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

“From when the police cut the noose and his body fell with a 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, a 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 evidence of mental illnesses.

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

She advises that people should not ignore social media messages when users threaten to commit 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.

Suicide notes

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

Trends show that suicide is not a reserve of 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 dead.

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

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

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