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Home / Mental Health

KCSE: The suicidal feel ‘like the world is ending’ after poor results

MENTAL HEALTHBy KIRSTEN KANJA | Mon,May 31 2021 08:00:00 EAT
By KIRSTEN KANJA | Mon,May 31 2021 08:00:00 EAT

That jittery feeling before sitting national exams is one many Kenyans are familiar with from constant repetition of what is at stake: dream jobs, family honour, the good life.

And once the exam results are out, the winners are separated from losers by the limelight of television cameras and newspaper stories for days on end. Barbs come hard on those who failed and the cruel reality of suicide cases around national examination period rings painfully true to many families.

In April this year, a 15-year-old girl from Nyamira County hanged herself just two days after the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) results were released. Esther Kemunto had shown no prior signs of depression, according to her family. As she left no suicide note, it was unclear whether dealing with examination results was what tilted the scales.

In the same month, a candidate attempted suicide after missing his KCPE because the school had allegedly failed to register him. The 16-year-old pupil of Kwa Song’e Primary School in Kitui County ingested a pesticide and was rushed to a health centre where he was stabilised after a sibling found him writhing in pain and foaming at the mouth. 

According to the centre supervisor, the learner’s index number had not been submitted to the Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC) for registration.

“I felt like my world had come to an end; spending eight years in school and having nothing to show for it in the long run is not only heart-breaking, but frustrating, ” the boy told The Standard last month while still in hospital, adding that he felt that his future had been ruined.

Last year, Simon Mbugua, a 16-year-old KCPE candidate died by suicide after his parents were unable to raise the fees for his school of choice and opted for a cheaper one closer home.

In 2019, a 14 year old from Kitui County took his life after not attaining 300 marks in KCPE. The boy had 170 marks out of 500 and his parents said he had previously threatened to take unspecified action should he fail to attain 300 mark.

And it’s not just those who perform dismally who harm themselves. Even bright students who lack fees do the same. Like the top performing girl from Kisumu County who wrote a suicide note after her parents were unable to raise the Sh50,000 fees to join secondary school.

The note written a month earlier read in part: “I know it is not the only way to solve this problem, but it is the best option for me to take.” However, well-wishers’ contributions saw her join Asumbi Girls.

Dr Michael Mbiriri, a clinical psychologist and lecturer at Kisii University warns that suicide is often a direct result of depression from parents who pressure their children to get As, and sometimes don’t appreciate a relatively good grade like a B+, putting strain on their mental health.

“When one ends his or her life and does not have a physiological condition such as schizophrenia, you will likely to find that it has a co-relation to loss. Many times, people don’t know how to handle a sense of losing something they consider valuable,” says Mbiriri, adding that young people need to be imbued with crucial life skills which will change their response to loss and thus reduce suicide statistics.

According to the psychologist, warning signs of suicidal tendencies include verbalising, being withdrawn, a lack of appetite, lack of sleep or excess sleep, anger outburst and losing interest in previously enjoyable activities and “it should raise an alarm if a parent hears verbalisations such as ‘I want to go on a journey’ or ‘I want to kill myself’.”

Mbiriri says though the current system of education is trying to address the emphasis on grades as a measure of success, still, “our children need to be impacted with a variety of skills and taught that they are gifted differently from each other”.

The psychologist advises parents to avoid comparing children, using demeaning language like lazy, good for nothing, and any type of confrontations that will reduce their self-esteem, and instead focus on imparting knowhow to handle failure in life, and how to turn lemons into lemonade.

Says Mbiriri: “If parents teach their children decision-making and creativity, it moves away from the culture of pressure and encourages a better reaction to rough times in one’s life.”

A 2016 United States International University study, “The relationship between KCSE examination scores and symptoms of anxiety, depression and suicide among adolescents in Nairobi” suggests that unmet expectations following the national exams contribute to depressive symptoms.

“Poverty, limited opportunities in public and private universities as well as lack of jobs compound the problem. What this means is adolescents taking the KCSE exams in Nairobi are at risk of serious mental issues,” reads the study in part.  

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