Julius Mwithalii from Meru, now popularly known as ‘James Bond’ of Meru made headlines on Thursday after hanging on Raila Odinga’s chopper after it took off at Maili Tatu, Meru County.
This incident comes barely eight months after the Bungoma man Saleh Wanjala alias Sambaka dangerously hanged on a helicopter earning him the name the ‘Bungoma James Bond’.
He was arrested and charged with endangering his life and that of the pilot by hanging precariously on the helicopter. Similarly, the Police in Meru were quick to arrest Julius Mwithalii and said that he will be charged with attempted suicide.
The choice of charges preferred on the “James Bond” of Meru, which is different from that of the ‘Bungoma James Bond’ raises a few eyebrows and brings to the fore three pertinent problems in our society.
First, how ignorant we are on suicide. The man clearly and confidently explained his intention and suicide was not in his radar. How the police determined that he was suicidal worries me.
Secondly, how ignorant we are on mental health in general. The Police preferred to take him to court rather than to a psychiatrist even after concluding that he was "suicidal".
Thirdly, we are in the twenty-first century and still criminalize attempted suicide yet research has repeatedly shown that over 90 percent of people who die by suicide have a mental illness at the time of their death. Clearly, the first point of contact for suicidal people should be a doctor, not a judge.
According to the Penal Code section 226, “Any person who attempts to kill himself is guilty of a misdemeanor.”
Since no penalty is given there, the penalty is determined by section 36 of the penal code which states, “When in this Code no punishment is specially provided for any misdemeanor, it shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or with a fine, or with both.”
However, it is worth noting that successfully committing suicide is not illegal; as you can't put a dead body in jail, nor can you try it for a crime. This begs the question; could this encourage successful completion of suicide attempt? Alternatively, does the law as it is deter people from attempting suicide?
Well, most suicidal people do not care that they are breaking the law by attempting suicide- they are far beyond worrying about the law.
Experts have called for attempted suicide to be recognized as a psychiatric illness, not a criminal offense since a majority of those who attempts to kill themselves are unwell.
“Sick (suicidal) people need treatment and care, not jail since the burden of the mental illness is punishment enough for the patient to bear. Adding on to the possibility of spending two years in jail, paying a fine, or both is an unnecessary additional burden.
People who die by suicide or attempt suicide usually feel overwhelmed, hopeless, helpless, desperate, and alone. In some rare cases, people who experience psychosis (losing touch with reality) may hear voices that tell them to end their life.
The World health Organizations has pointed out that criminalizing suicide discourages people from reaching out for medical help and treatment.
People who take their lives don't want to die, they just want to stop hurting. Rather than investing our efforts on jailing people for being sick, we need to redirect these efforts in suicide prevention. It starts with educating people on how to recognize the warning signs and taking them seriously.
Kenya should therefore decriminalize attempted suicide that is driven by mental illness. This move might go a long way in reducing the stigma attached to suicides.
People will no longer feel the need to hide their suicidal thoughts and would be encouraged to talk about it with others and subsequently to seek professional help.
Anyone willing to join me in challenging the legality of this section of our laws so that sick people can be accorded the help they need rather than being jailed or punished for having an illness?
The Author is mental health and children's rights advocate and the Founder/CEO of Psychiatric Disability Organization. He can be reached on [email protected] Website: http://www.pdokenya.org/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Psychiatricdisability/