There is growing alarm in Kenya about a surprising increase in the number of suicides in the country.
Almost 500 people They reportedly committed suicide in the three months to June this year, more than in all of 2020, according to Kenyan police.
The youngest person to kill himself was nine years old; the oldest 76. The 483 deaths recorded during the period represented a marked increase in the annual average of about 320 cases, the Ministry of Health reported.
George Kinoti, who heads the Police Directorate for Criminal Investigations, said: “Never before have we recorded such a high number of suicides and this is not only alarming but requires urgent corrective action.”
Kenyan authorities have not given reasons for the increase, but a report published in June from the World Health Organization (WHO) said: “Suicides occur impulsively in times of crisis with a breakdown in the ability to cope with life’s stresses, such as financial problems, broken relationships or chronic pain and illness.” He added that in 2019, “more than 77% of global suicides occurred in low- and middle-income countries.”
Last year the Kenya National Human Rights Commission (KNCHR) said 1,442 Kenyans attempted suicide between 2015 and 2018, which it said were conservative figures as only a fraction of the cases were reported.
The organization linked the increase in cases to mental illness caused by a breakdown of socioeconomic safeguards, saying it was the “last resort and escape route for people with unmet mental health needs.”
“Research has shown that structural determinants of poor mental health such as extreme poverty, lack of access to empowerment opportunities, and discrimination increase the likelihood of people committing suicide,” KNHCR said.
“Unfortunately, suicide prevention measures in Kenya have often failed to address these root causes and instead have incorporated fewer effective approaches, including punitive measures.”
Data from world Bank It puts Kenya’s suicide death rates at 6.1 people out of 100,000, and men are in the highest risk category, with 9.1 men out of 100,000 affected.
Eddy Kimani, a celebrated media personality in the country who fought episodes of mental illness, said Kenyan men are more likely to suffer bouts of depression that lead to suicide due to stereotypes about what it “means to be a man.”
“Men are generally taking their own lives in Kenya due to a distorted understanding of what it is to be a man. An African man guards his feelings because he fears the repercussions in a society that has taught men that they do not cry, that they are not supposed to show their emotions or be vulnerable.
“There are men who would rather have a prostate checkup than see a psychiatrist or a counselor,” he said.
The KNCHR report said that efforts to address the root causes of suicide were hampered by the criminalization of attempted suicide.
Section 226 of Kenya Penal Code says “anyone who attempts suicide [sic] is guilty of a misdemeanor ”, which the human rights body likened to“ re-victimization of already vulnerable victims, ”while placing people who are already socially and economically vulnerable at an even greater disadvantage.
Worldwide, 703,000 people kill themselves each year, and the WHO states that suicide was the fourth leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds in 2019. WHO cited poor data, lack of awareness about suicide as a major problem public health and the taboo in many societies around openly discussing suicide as obstacles to combating the problem.
* Help is available in the UK and the Republic of Ireland by contacting Samaritans at 116 123 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. In the USA. National Lifeline for Suicide Prevention is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Life line en 13 11 14. Other international suicide hotlines can be found at www.befrienders.org