Researchers and institution heads have warned about anxiety and mental health worries among students
On a bright sunny Sunday morning, Dan*, a 22-year university student waited patiently for his parents to depart for church at their Kitengela home.
He proceeded to commit suicide by hanging with a rope in their sitting room. Neighbours and friends described Dan as quiet and secretive in his dealings.
This scenario has been repeated in many homes and college hostels across the country as the number of high school and college students taking their lives continue to increase.
Among young people aged 15-29, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death after road injury, tuberculosis and interpersonal violence, according to data from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
In Kenya, WHO data estimates that 1408 people commit suicide yearly, four deaths daily.
Past studies have shown that most mental disorders, such as depression, schizophrenia and bipolar mood disorders begin to develop in late teens and early 20s.
Experimenting with substances, such as alcohol, marijuana, cannabis and khat makes the youth vulnerable to suicidal behaviour.
Relationship break-up also adversely affect the teenagers and those in their early 20s- leading to suicidal thoughts.
Negative use of social media, such as cyberbullying, sending or posting harmful or hurtful messages, pictures and videos by a person or a group of people are the newer and modern risk factors for suicides among younger people.
Anxiety, personality, eating and trauma related disorders, as well as organic mental disorders, also contribute to suicides, according to researchers.
Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the situation with school and college closures, jobs losses among parents – that has made the youths hopeless about an unpredictable future.
According to Dr Dina Were, a lecturer and researcher at Kaimosi University College, School of Education and Social Sciences, the occurrence of reported suicide cases among young people in Kenya is alarming and yet many cases go unreported due to social stigma associated with suicide in many cultures.
In her recent research titled “Suicide behaviour among Kenyan youth. Risk factors and prevalence in secondary school”, the majority of reported suicide cases happen amongst youth in high schools, colleges and universities.
According to Dr Were, dysfunctional families, church, academic pressure, media, depression, and relationship problems were risk factors that laid the foundation for suicidal behaviour among youths.
Suicidal behaviours, included thoughts, plans and attempts. Society is becoming more individualistic and hence most people suffer in silence.
Gladys Kendi, a guidance and counselling teacher in a secondary school in Kajiado county concurs with Dr Were’s finding terming social pressure to conform to certain standards and dysfunctional families are some of the major contributors to suicidal thoughts.
“In urban households, especially in lower income brackets, school going teenagers are exposed to do mestic violence, poverty, drugs and crime. Some lose hope in life after witnessing their parents maimed or killed by their spouses,” observed Kendi.
Covid-19 has exacerbated the situations after already fragile households lost their sources of incomes as businesses and jobs were lost.
According to Kendi, high school students coming from homes where parents have lost jobs are always sulky, moody and have low concentration in class.
Dr Were avers that suicidal behaviour among youth in secondary schools poses a significant challenge to mental health practices in learning institutions of Kenya.
She posits that there is need for promotion of mental health programmes in public learning institutions and professional training facilities in relevant sectors, especially in counseling, health and social workers.
Globally, in 2019, more than 700,000 people died from suicide- many of them being in the 15 to 29 age bracket.
More than twice as many males die due to suicide as females -12.6 per 100 000 males compared with 5.4 per 100 000 females.
“After many months living with Covid-19 pandemic, many of the risk factors for suicide job loss, financial stress and social isolation- are very much more apparent.
We cannot and must not ignore suicide,” observed Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, WHO.
According to a recently released WHO guidelines to prevent suicides are four strategies.
Among these is fostering socio-emotional life skills in adolescents. Also, early identification, assessment, management and follow-up of anyone affected by suicidal thoughts and behaviour.