Out of 421 suicide cases in Kenya, 330 involved men
Jackline Kagu’s story sounded more like a scene from a fictional movie. She would have extreme mood swings: one time she would be in an extremely elevated mood and other times depressed.
She had been a normal child, but things escalated when she joined college. She got into substance abuse, making her situation more troubling.
“During one of my drinking sprees, I climbed up a building and wanted to jump. I had such an adrenaline rush and euphoria and all my energy was focused on that.
I remember loving the attention I got from onlookers who thought I was going to kill myself,” she says.
After college, Jackie, an administrator at a local university in Karatina, got married. Things were not easy, as most of the people around her didn’t know she was unwell; many assumed she was arrogant.
And because of extreme mood swings, her marriage broke down in 2012 and things took a turn for worse.
“I looked okay on the outside, but deep down I was hurting. I would have these hyper mania episodes that led me to impulse buying. I bought things I didn’t even need.
I added more furniture in my house and even gave Sh50,000 to a stranger. After I had used all my money, I secured a loan of Sh800,000 from a local bank.
I had that feeling of grandiosity coupled with unrealistic plans. Within a week, I couldn’t explain where all the money had gone.
I was kicked out of my rented home. Then the depressive episodes started,” she says.
With the little savings Jackie had, she rented a hotel room. All this while, she had an elaborate plan to kill herself and her two sons to end the misery. “This was my second time attempting suicide.
Luckily, we were saved from that situation when my son answered my phone and notified the caller of our location,” explains Jackie.
After that incident, Jackie was checked into Mediva Rehabilitation Centre in Thika as an inpatient.
But because she was in denial, she forced the organisation’s hand and became an outpatient.
The mood swings did not stop, and when she attacked and tried to kill her mother with a rake after an argument, she checked herself into the centre.
“I have tried escaping several times with no luck. I didn’t think I was ill even when doctor’s observations proved otherwise.
There was a time I was so high in mania, that I pulled out steel from a tap and started to self-harm by cutting myself. I was in so much emotional pain and I thought that would relieve me.
Thank God I was rescued in time. It was so bad that I couldn’t receive visitors without the doctor’s authorisation,” she adds.
In 2017, Jackie was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a mental uncontrolled mood swings condition, coupled with a high feelings of anxiety happy feelings (hyper mania) to feeling sad and low (depression).
There are two types of bipolar disorder, and Jackie falls under bipolar type 1, where her moods would shift from mania to depression in a cyclic pattern.
It was then that Jackie realised the more she rebelled, the more her medication was doubled, leaving her drowsy for days. So, she accepted treatment and her days got better.
Her three-month stay at the centre helped her cope with the condition and finally accepting herself.
Jackie is one of the many people in the world who have attempted suicide.
According to the World Health Organisation, 800,000 people commit suicide every year, translating to a suicide every 40 seconds. Many more attempt suicide.
The United Nation’s health agency also states that out of the 421 suicide cases in Kenya in 2017, 330 involved men and that the number of suicides reported in the country rose by 58 per cent between 2008 and 2017.
Further, as at 2016, the country’s suicide rate was at 3.2 cases for every 100,000 people.
According to data from the National Research Crime Centre, Nyamira is the leading county in reported cases of suicide attempts in 2019 at 9.1 per cent of the county average population.
Kericho follows closely at 5.8 per cent, then Homa Bay at 4.0 per cent. Migori and Baringo are also among the top five counties at 3.0 and 2.8 per cent respectively.
Suicide is the outcome of certain risk factors, including psychological, social and cultural and sometimes genetic.
These factors are more often than not combined with experiences of trauma and loss.
People living with depression, in many cases, encounter various emotional challenges, which over time become burdensome.
Elmard Regan, a psychological counsellor says numerous individuals who experience the effects of depression report feeling losing touch with their social life.
“Frequently, they don’t understand they’re experiencing a treatable condition, and seeking assistance may not cross their minds.
They would prefer to die, as a way to ‘cope’ with their torment, hoping it will end,” he explained.
Some signs and symptoms to look out for include physical symptoms such as dizziness, headaches, stomachaches, persistent unhappiness, negativity, irritability, overly self-critical, unwarranted guilt and low self-esteem.
“The inability to concentrate, think straight, remember or make decisions possibly resulting in refusal to study in school or an inability due to depression or attention deficit disorder to do schoolwork, loss of interest in once pleasurable activities, chronic worry, excessive fear, preoccupation with death themes in literature, music, drawings, speaking of death repeatedly, fascination with guns/knives, suicidal thoughts, plans, or attempts are things we should note keenly,” he adds.
The psychological counsellor points out that suicidal people will generally exhibit signs of excessive sadness or calmness or even withdraw from various activities.
They will have changes in personality and/or make suicidal remarks. “You will also see that the individual then starts ideating about suicide, during which a depressed person finds him/herself thinking about suicide more and more,” he said.
And this drives the patient’s dark thoughts to begin to formulate specific plans for suicide.
“Finally, the individual seems to suddenly drift because they have made the decision to die and are no longer wrestling with the decision,” he explains.
Various factors cause one to sink that low. They could be influenced by what people feel, think and perceive.
Before someone contemplates suicide, there is often a negative emotion, thought or perception that makes it difficult for them to cope with life.
It could range from loss of a loved one, losing a job, failing in a certain venture, divorce or separation or any unpleasant situation.
In his line of duty, Regan observed that men are more likely to commit suicide compared to women.
“Culture is largely to blame for this. In most societies, men have been groomed to toughen up and be bold in the face of adversity.
Some studies also suggest that men will opt for more ‘instant’ suicide methods like hanging themselves, shooting or ingesting lethal chemicals,” he says.
Although the Crime Centre has data on attempted suicide, there are no concrete locally generated statistics on suicides in Kenya.
Despite this, every person has an integral part to play in the fight against suicide whether directly or indirectly.
Giving attention to mental health is a primary factor in the fight against suicide.
Strengthening the existing policies and frameworks, conducting intensive awareness campaigns will greatly help in this course.
“Equally, funding and devolving the provision of mental health services will facilitate the ease of access, diagnosis and treatment of various mental health issues,” said Regan.
Support from loved ones is also crucial. “Individuals who get support from their loved ones and seek psychological support are more averse to suicide than individuals who are disengaged from seeking support.
In the event that somebody you know is showing signs of suicide, don’t be hesitant to inquire as to whether they are depressed or contemplating suicide.
In some cases, the person just needs to know that someone cares and is looking for the chance to talk about his or her feelings. You can then encourage the person to seek professional help,” he advised.
Jackie is currently under medication and will be for a long time. She also attends therapy twice a month.
Not many others with Jackie’s condition are as lucky as her to get help and even afford medication to survive suicide. - Grace Wachira and Virginia Wambui