Helping my suicidal sister stay alive

Wednesday, September 9th, 2020 00:00 |
Triza Muthoni pursued counselling psychology to help her sister who has Bipolar Type II disorder. Photo/PD/Photo Harriet James

News of loved ones committing suicide has become commonplace. Even as adults, rich and poor, men and women take their lives, unfortunately this has not spared children from doing it. As we mark World Suicide Prevention Day tomorrow, Triza Wanjiru shares why you should never give up on your loved ones. 

Harriet James  @harriet86jim

“It started when my older sister was a teenager. We were going through a lot in life in 1998.

We come from a poor background and she dropped out of school while in Class Eight to assist my parents care for us.

She felt frustrated in life.  She didn’t feel like anybody understood her or what she was going through and that made her suicidal,” Triza Muthoni, a counselling psychologist and co-founder, Growth Catalysts Organisation, says of her sister, Grace Wanjiru. 

Triza also recalls how in 2006, Wanjiru, was involved in a relationship that hit rock bottom and that too contributed to her being suicidal.  

Though the birth of Wanjiru’s son in 2007 gave her the will to live, it was just for a while. This made Triza assist Wanjiru seek medical attention in 2010. 

“My sister was diagnosed with Bipolar Type II disorder. It is during her depressive episodes that she would become suicidal,” she says.

The family offered Wanjiru a lot of care and support. She began a self-awareness journey and became more conscious of her thoughts and the events that triggered suicidal tendencies.

Some of her triggers include, disagreements, cold weather, heartbreak or broken relationships.

“On days when I’m greatly depressed, I take medication.  Public hospitals offer medication at a subsidised price, and I have National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF),” Wanjiru says.

She also has social support. “I teach children at my local church and this gives me a purpose in my life.

I am happier now, but knowing that I have support makes me face each day with stride,” Wanjiru adds. 

Sister love: Triza and Wanjiru. Photo/PD/Courtesy

To keep her mind engaged, she makes homemade soap and antiseptic and sells them. The job gives her financial independence and also flexibility. 

Taboo subject

On the other hand, Triza has trained herself to notice when her sister is about to be depressed.

“When this happens, we talk and I listen to her. We then identify the trigger, and if it is something she can handle without medication, then she does.

If it is extreme, then she takes anti-depressants and mood stabilisers and she gets back on her feet within a week or two,” says Triza.

Taking care of her sister birthed a deeper desire to assist other people battling depression and suicide.

Triza is now a counselling psychologist. She also offers psychosocial support and assist her sister talk openly about bipolar. 

“Whenever she has an episode, I try not to take anything she says personally.

This can be hard, especially when she is manic or depressed. But because of my professional background, I am able to take it in stride.

It takes a toll on me and during these times, I turn to my best friend, and my tight circle for support,” she says.

Their parents and extended family at large also are always there to help Wanjiru during her tough times. “Suicide is a taboo subject.

This is why my organisation speak openly and create awareness on suicide and mental illness.

Parents hardly ever discuss this with children, and suicidal attempts are viewed as attention seeking behaviour or witchcraft.

The truth is no one wants to die, they just want the hopelessness situation to go away or they think they are doing their family a favour.

We should speak openly about suicide, its causes and prevention,” explains Triza.

Anybody can get it

She adds that people who attempt suicide want to live, only that they have lost their will power to fight.

They are also exhausted emotionally and psychologically in that they feel  lost, tired , hopeless, ashamed, have feelings of guilt and a sadness so intense it becomes unbearable.

“People don’t commit suicide overnight —it’s a long process. When someone attempts suicide, they are not joking, it’s a call for help, they are saying they’ve given up and don’t know what else to do. 

Let’s listen. Let’s intervene, let’s not judge or stigmatise,” Triza advises.

Of late, disheartening news of people committing suicide has become the order of the day on the media.

Even successful people, who in the eyes of the world seem to be having everything going on for them are committing suicide at an alarming rate.

International celebrities such as Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade deaths as a result of suicide shocked the world.

According to a World Health Organisation (WHO)  report, Kenya has no vital data to help directly estimate the rate of suicide locally, due to the lack of proper data collection on the causes of death.

In a study conducted by Mary Bitta, a researcher at Kemri-Wellcome Trust, a health research institute in Kenya, the criminalisation of suicide in Kenya undergirded in the penal code and cultural stigma against suicide are the main reasons for the poor state of data on suicide. 

According to WHO, Every 40 seconds, someone loses their life to suicide. On World Suicide Prevention Day tomorrow, WHO would be launching a “40 seconds of action” campaign to raise awareness of the scale of suicide around the world and the role that people can play to help prevent it.

According to the World Population Review, suicide rate in Kenya is at least 6.5 per 100,000 persons in Kenya and they predict that this figure will increase in the coming years. 

In their assessment, suicide is linked with mental disorders like anxiety disorders, bipolar, depression, alcohol as well as other substance abuse. 

Hopelessness too, makes most people become suicidal as they don’t see anything good in present times, past life or the future.

“To them there’s no life to look forward to. They also feel like they are unworthy of life, love and their families.

They tend to think they are a burden to their families and in their minds, committing suicide is like doing themselves and their family a favour.

They just want to experience peace and end the suffering. They do not think that by committing suicide, they are leaving their people depressed,” she says  

While financial reasons may be the major causes of depression, others such as  emotional stress and frustration may result in individuals as great as celebrities, whom the world esteems highly, to be brought down.

“It is a disease like any other and with treatment and counselling, one can get better. It doesn’t pick based on social class, race, gender, sexual orientation or geographical location.

Anyone can get depressed and depression is treated.  Depression is the leading cause of suicide in the world. So let’s watch out for our loved ones,” Triza says.

Don’t give up

Sadly, in as much as suicide prevention is attainable, more suicidal people are scared of the fact that attempting to get assistance might result in them having more pain.

For instance, they may be told that they are stupid, manipulative, and sinful and in extreme cases, they might be sidelined from the people they love. This consequently hinders them from getting assistance. 

“I have seen patients who believe medication will not help them. That all they need is to be prayed for as hii ni mashetani (this is witchcraft).

But once they have tried all that and it has failed they come back to mental health professionals,” she adds.

She advises people feeling suicidal to always find one person whom they can talk to and never to be scared to look for assistance when they need it. 

“Learn as much as you can about depression and suicide. Don’t give up on yourself even when everyone does, keep fighting for your life,” Triza says.

More on Lifestyle