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His sister saved him after suicide attempt

By - Kevin Oguoko | October 15th 2012

By Kevin Oguoko

 What seemed like a normal day in the month of September 2009 turned tragic when darkness covered the sky in a high school in Kampala city in Uganda. The unfortunate events that unfolded have left indelible memories in the life of Fred Korwa.

 Mr Korwa was head boy. Students had risen up in arms and unfortunately staff and the school administration did not want to hear any explanation, yet they blamed him for the chaos.

He was involved, so they were convinced. With a couple of months to go to his final examinations, Korwa was given an indefinite suspension.

 Having no choice, the 19-year-old was sent packing to his home in Changamwe, Mombasa.

 “No one believed that I had nothing to do with the strike. The teachers were not convinced by my strong statement exonerating myself from the deed.

 He looked forward to the end of the two months to the examinations with joy, having kept a brilliant track record since Form One. With this turn of events, the situation at home became worse by the day, with his father hurling insults at him and not wanting to share the same sitting room as he had brought disgrace to the family.

 Korwa says he could not take it anymore and at a certain time he slept for the whole day without uttering a single word since morning. He finally decided to put into action a thought that had been running through his mind for a while.

 “Why not just end my life?”  Posed Korwa, contemplating the next action to take.

 He says he went to the toilet, and then tied a rope to the ceiling.

 He then stepped on a basin and tied the rope’s knot around his neck, ready for the action– taking away his life.

 Luckily, before Korwa’s life was snuffed out, his sister heard the unusual struggle coming from the toilet and arrived in time to save his desperate brother.

Suicidal tendencies

Suicidal thoughts and actual suicide are closely related to depression and might be mistaken for each other, according to Professor Elizabeth Okech, a counselling psychologist.

Depression is increasingly being witnessed among teenagers as they constantly face pressures to succeed and fit in the ever-growing society, she remarks.

Among others, they struggle with self-esteem issues, self-doubt and feelings of alienation. According to Prof Okech, for some, this may lead to suicidal thoughts.

Korwa points out that no one in his family knew about his depressed state.

Thus, no one quite envisioned him putting a rope around his neck and jumping to his death any time soon, if ever.

 Since time immemorial teenagers have been known to mask their feelings with few or nobody knowing what exactly is going on in their mind. 

 So how does one spot a depressed and suicidal teenager who does well to hide his suffering under a mask of forced smiles?

 Prof Okech says there are four broad categories of warning signs that manifest; situational, behavioural, emotional and verbal.

Situational signs involve current happenings in a teenager’s life that, if not addressed as early as possible, affect emotional and mental stability.  She says that when the situation reaches this extreme, many simply opt to ‘give up’.

 This may involve a loss of a loved one either through death or divorce, loss of prestige, serious illness or a survivor of a previous suicide attempt.

Korwa notes that he tried to commit suicide yet again after his first attempt but gave up.

Timely remedy

Behavioural warning signs involve talking or writing about death, falling grades in school, not showing enthusiasm in daily life as well as judging oneself harshly. In Korwa’s case it involved sleep§ing almost the whole day. Emotional signs would involve one having a sense of personal failure or overwhelming sadness while verbal warning signs involve expression of ‘strong’ phrases that would otherwise be dismissed as mere expressions. Phrases such as ‘I have nothing to live for’ and ‘no one cares about what happens to me’ should be dealt with caution. These are a must watch for people living among teenagers if the society is to reduce cases of suicide among teenagers, the psychologist avers.

 “Again we know that medication for such patients is expensive and parents are struggling to see how their sons and daughters can be treated and reinstated back to families and communities. Because we don’t understand the disease, we may make mistakes in handling such cases in our families, schools and communities,” notes Prof Okech.

 There is need for society to be made aware of such illness and be given access to some of the basic treatments that are affordable.

In Korwa’s case, his father’s reaction aggravated the situation, thus Prof Okech observes that this is not exactly the best way to go when faced with such situations.

 She advises that remedy to these situations includes telling the affected person not to repeat what they did. One can also let them share their true feelings and not keep their suicidal feelings to themselves; or make them avoid drugs; a sort of temporary solutions that might lead to more dire acts.

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