Depression cases rise as scores lose jobs over Covid-19

The world marks World Suicide Prevention Day as State boosts efforts to prevent mental illness

When the first case of Covid-19 was reported in the country in March, life for Doreen Mercy, 25, changed.

Mercy lost her job and the resultant financial constraints drove her to depression.

She had endometriosis and had no one to talk to as her relationship with her family was strained.

Endometriosis is a disorder where tissue similar to that which lines the inside of the uterus — the endometrium — grows outside.

“I was supposed to go for surgery but didn’t have money. This stressed me. A friend told me to write things I need to do in the morning. I wrote but never did them,” she says.

Mercy says at the peak of her depressive state she would go for even a week without taking a shower. She resorted to abusing drugs to forget her problems.

“All I wanted was to forget about myself and everything. I was not eating, not that I lacked food but had no appetite,” she adds.

As the world marks World Suicide Prevention Day, she looks back at the difficult time in her life.

She developed addiction to drugs and when she could not afford to buy them anymore, she started having suicidal thoughts. 

Mercy says she couldn’t even have a boyfriend for fear of him finding out her troubles and she started thinking of throwing herself in front of a moving vehicle. She even considered taking poison, but says an inner voice stopped  her.

Life during the pandemic has been hard for her.

Every month enduring pain from endometriosis added to her troubles and she sunk deeper into depression. Staying in the house without changing environment was more stressful.

Therapy sessions

With no income, the landlord closed her house due to rent arrears and she moved in with a friend. 

Failing to share the problems with friends and family, the uncertainty of when the virus would end so that life can return to normal was too much for Mercy. 

“I started questioning God asking where I went wrong and most of the time I could switch off my phone to avoid people who were asking about my progress. I lost my voice for two days and when I went to hospital I was diagnosed with stress,” she adds.

After several therapy sessions Mercy is now doing well, but she is not the only one that has had suicidal thoughts during the pandemic.

David Kamimo who is 35-years-old says he was depressed and started having suicidal thoughts in 2013 after his fiancee left him. He quit his job because he felt unworthy, and this complicated his relationship with family.

In 2016 he collapsed and was admitted to hospital with malaria. Kamimo says he used to hallucinate and hear voices tell him he was unworthy.

“I never knew how the day ended, time had stopped in my world. I had insomnia and I could go for days without sleep,” he says.

All this time he feared talking to people and seeking medical help. To heal from depression, Kamimo reconnected with family, started reading books and going for morning runs.

Unfortunately he slipped back into depression after his gigs were cancelled due to Covid-19 outbreak.

“I work with a band, but with coronavirus all I had were cancelled events and now I have to sit in the house feeling very unproductive,” he says.

He stopped the morning and evening runs after the curfew was imposed.

“I didn’t know where to go. I was used to hanging around people, but now I was left alone. My wife had travelled and with the cessation of movement between counties, she couldn’t come back, so I started having conflicting voices in my mind,” says Kamimo.

Anxiety and worry made him develop insomnia, and he also lost appetite.  “I was not receiving calls, but a friend was calling me persistently until I picked and he advised me to see a doctor at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital where I go for therapy sessions to date,” he adds. 

The World Population Review ranks Kenya at position 114 among 175 countries with the highest suicide rate. Furthermore, Kenya’s suicide rate is at least 6.5 suicides per 100,000 people. 

During the pandemic cases of suicide are expected to increase from 421 deaths recorded by Kenya Bureau of Statistics in 2018.

Dr Pius Kigamwa, a psychiatrist at Nairobi Hospital, says the fear of contagion of coronavirus leads to uncertainty and fear of the unknown that causes distress among people who think they might die and leave their families behind or be left by their family members, thus increasing the number of attempted suicide.

“On a suicide prevention perspective, it is troubling that the most important public health approach for Covid-19 is social distancing,” says Kigamwa.