If you unsuccessfully try to commit suicide you may be looking at a jail term.

In the Penal Code, any person who attempts to kill himself/herself is guilty of a misdemeanor. The penalty is up to two years in prison or a fine or both.

“The State looks at life of any human being as sacred. Your life therefore is not yours alone but shared with others in the society: like your brothers, sisters, children, spouse, parents and friends. The lives of these other people may depend on yours. You therefore don’t have the right to end it,” explains Donald Rabala, a lawyer at Rabala and Company advocates in Upper Hill, Nairobi.

In a way, Mr Rabala adds, the attempted suicide law — which has been in existence since colonial times — is justified, “for the sake of order”. Rabala cites cases where individuals may commit suicide to run away from crimes or mistakes they have made. For instance, when one has loans, which they can no longer repay, if they attempt to commit suicide to escape, they will be held responsible. 

In the opinion of Dr Lincoln Khasakhala, a clinical psychologist at CAPRE Kenya, anyone who attempts to end their lives needs to be provided with treatment or psychological therapy. “That law needs to be reviewed. Such a person should be taken to an institution for mental health — not jail. In fact, jail will worsen their condition. They will be more depressed, something that won’t improve their mental health prospects,” he says.

Dr Khasakhala adds: “The most common cause of suicide [whether successful or not] is depression. Suicide is a symptom of depression. But there are other types of suicides, provoked by different scenarios in life.”

Other types of suicide, as listed by Dr Khasakhala

• Schizophrenia patients hear voices telling them to end their lives

• Impulsive suicide: Th ese are drug-abuse related and include alcoholism and use of illegal substances

• Youth suicide: Among young people suicide is common. It is a cry for help; a way for them asking to be heard

• Terminally ill patients may opt to end their lives, something they look at it as a better option rather than life lived in constant pain

• Serious mistakes, ones that cause a lot of regret, like contracting HIV through promiscuous sex, may cause people to commit suicide

NB: Euthanasia is not suicide. It is assisted suicide, where an individual asks someone else to end their lives, usually because they are terminally ill or too old to care for them- selves. Euthanasia is illegal in Kenya. It is legal in places like Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Canada, and in the US states of Washington, Oregon, Vermont, Montana, and California.