A mental health report by the World Health Organisation in June this year ranking Kenyans as the sixth most depressed people in Africa must have missed out something in the survey! Going by recent incidences, I believe we rank high up on the list of most depressed folks globally. Though we are loath to admit it, we are all stressed out. And it does not matter the social or economic class anymore.
Each category of people is suffering from its own type of malaise, arising from its peculiar litany of woes. It is this acute social, economic and political quagmire that is driving the youth, and society as a whole, to the abyss. From emotionally charged homes to deceitful clergy, and the politics of deception, hate, and division, there is nowhere left to seek solace. With people being broke, even alcohol is no longer a viable option. We have become a dysfunctional society.
There is something amiss with our collective mental health. Individuals are taking matters into their own hands, foregoing the existing formal structures of con?ict resolution. According to the World Health Organisation, the number of suicides reported in Kenya rose by 58 per cent between 2008 and 2017, to reach 421. May be due to the inordinate demands placed on men, the suicide rate for males is three times higher than that for women. Out of the 421 suicide cases in 2017, 330 comprised men, compared to 91 cases for women. On average, 317 people commit suicide every year in Kenya.
The World Population Review ranks Kenya at position 114 among 175 countries with the highest suicide rate globally. According to the Ministry of Health, about one in every four Kenyans will suffer from mental illness at one point in their lives. Statistics also reveal that up to 40 per cent of those seeking outpatient services in hospitals have one or more mental disorders. There are several stressors that are driving Kenyans over the cliff.
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Top of the list is the worsening economic situation, coupled with a shrinking job market. Matters of the heart have also become dire due to high incidents of betrayal and in?delity. In fact, there is a joke going round that marriage has become one of the major killers in Kenya. Another catalyst of our problems is the ubiquitous social media.
Many people are ?nding it hard to cope with the ‘competition’, as their peers and contemporaries constantly post both their real and made up achievements on digital communication networks. News that a senior manager at leading consulting ?rm Price Water House Coopers (PwC) had committed suicide earlier this year spread on social media like wild?re. The deceased joined a growing list of people who belong to a privileged social group in this country who have reportedly committed suicide.
Why would a person with an impressive education, an enviable career, and great future prospects take his or her own life? Moreover, for some reason, he did it in a very scary and public manner. The PwC gentleman is among an increasing number of Kenyans taking their own lives due to unbearable stress levels. Related to the foregoing is the high number of homicides, especially the few high pro?le ones, recorded this year.
We are hurting deeply from systemic failure. Nothing is working on all fronts, and no one seems to be in control. The future looks bleak, even to the idealist. People are throwing in the towel because, at the end of the day, it is not worth the effort. Prayers seem to be getting longer to get answered in an impatient generation. We are at a treacherous place, individually and collectively.
I hate to be a prophet of doom, but people have lost hope. It is one month since the 2019 World Mental Health Day was marked under the theme, ‘Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World’. Indeed, young people have become apprehensive and extremely anxious about the future. The world is now extremely uncertain, as life becomes constantly ?uid.
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The African society needs to retrace its steps to the point it was uprooted from its identity. I am advocating for returning to a semblance of the social structures that held us together as one people, who looked out for each in all seasons.
The writer is an author, communication specialist, and public policy analyst. [email protected]