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Home / Mental Health

Attempting suicide shouldn’t be treated as crime, it’s a health issue

By KALANGI KIAMBATI | Thu,Sep 09 2021 07:45:26 EAT

The number of suicide cases in Kenya is alarming. Data indicates that at least 483 people took their own lives between March and June, while according to data by the DCI, the country recorded 409 cases of life-threatening intimate partner assault, with some counties reporting higher rates than others.

Reportedly, the youngest person to take their life was nine years old while the oldest was 76. According to the World Health Organisation, 78 per cent of the close to 80,000 people who commit suicide every year globally are from poor countries. Kenya ranks 114th among countries with the highest suicide rates.

Experts attribute suicide to life’s pressures ranging from loss of income, breakups in relationships to academic failure, among others.

As we mark the suicide awareness week, the big question is why the sharp increase and what can be done to help? I think the destabilisation of lives by the global pandemic has contributed greatly to the increase in the number of people attempting to, or actually taking their own lives.

That Covid-19 took us all by surprise cannot be gainsaid. Those with pre-existing mental health challenges, no doubt, found it harder to cope with the effects of the various response measures, including isolation and economic meltdown.

Breadwinners could have found it difficult to deal with their sudden inability to provide for their loved ones. Intimate partners in already strained relationships have had the new normal to add to their problems. These, coupled with societal expectations of what is success and who is strong or weak, most likely drove many people to the edge.

Last resort

So what is the way forward? We first need to decriminalise attempted suicide. It is important to note that human beings by nature are wired to want to live. We go to hospital when sick, we keep off danger and protect ourselves from harm. For a person to want to die, therefore, something must be off. In fact, experts say that suicidal people see death as the only way out of their suffering. They take it as the last resort.

In dying, they think they are saving themselves and/or their loved ones. Suicidal thoughts therefore should be taken as a health issue rather than a crime. The way to help is to attempt to get to the root cause of people’s attempts to take their own lives and find solutions. We do not castigate a loved one for coming down with a flu, do we?

Mental health specialists are few and far between. At the community levels, many people still view ill mental health as a weakness. Psychologically disturbed people are labelled mad and, often, very little is done to get to the root causes of their mental health challenges. Besides increasing the number of specialists in local health facilities, there is need to mainstream mental health literacy among community health volunteers.

This will increase access to diagnoses and follow-up for treatment of mentally-ill people at the community level. The volunteers can also leverage their access to households to educate people on causes, indicators and ways of preventing mental health challenges.

Dr Kalangi is a communication trainer and consultant, Kenyatta University

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