One woman’s journey with mental illness, suicide attempts

Grace Wanjiru at her sister's home in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu County. She has attempted suicide twice due to depression.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • For Grace Wanjiru, it started as childhood trauma, quickly developing into  severe depression.
  • A bad relationship with her father, a broken marriage between her parents and a failed relationship with her boyfriend, almost pushed her to the brink.
  • She first attempted suicide over a broken relationship with a man she had dated for close to seven years.
  • Locally, it is estimated four lives are lost every day to suicide.

What started as a childhood trauma for Grace Wanjiru, 41, quickly developed into severe depression and in in 2010, she was diagnosed with a Bipolar II disorder.  Today, Grace is grateful she has overcome the mental condition.

According to the mother of one, a bad relationship with her father, a broken marriage between her parents and a failed relationship with her boyfriend almost pushed her to the brink. At her lowest moments, she attempted to end her life, not once but twice.

“I was only seven years, my father used to beat us a lot. I was forced to stay with my grandmother, I did not get attention and I ended up engaging in sexual relations.  That is how I became a sex addict…I even dropped out of school in Class Seven,” Grace told Nation during an interview at their home in Eldoret.

And as she grew up, she was involved in many relationships. Grace says she first attempted to commit suicide over a broken relationship with a man she had dated for close to seven years.

Took overdose

“I started to hear rumour that he was moving with somebody else, which I later confirmed to be true. And out of desperation, I wanted to commit suicide by taking an overdose of medicine but luckily, I survived as I was rushed to a hospital . . . I started to hate men. There were moments I could just sleep and cry,” says Grace as she breaks into sobs.

As the world marked Suicide Prevention Day on September 10, there is need for Kenyans to reach out to those battling depression and other mental-related conditions. According to Webmed, Bipolar II disorder is a milder form of mood elevation, involving milder episodes of hypomania that alternate with periods of severe depression.

“I was taken to a hospital where I was diagnosed with bipolar. I was given some medication to help me to manage the situation. However, there are some situations that trigger the condition,” she notes.

Lost income

And, in 2007, Grace sired a baby with another man. Her life was improving and she even secured a casual job.  She made a second attempt to end her life when life became unbearable; when she lost her source of income.

“I felt I was not able to support my son. I was hopeless I even bade some of my family bye but I am happy my younger sister reached out and talked to me. The burden was taken off my shoulder and she is supporting me,” she says with a smile.  

She is happy that to be alive having accepted her condition. Four years ago, she reconciled and made peace with her father who is now a church elder.

“I want to thank God that I am still alive with my child giving me more reasons to live. My sister has really stood with me. She is full of love and kindness,” she says.

Grace advices fellow parents and guardians to give their children undivided attention and love to ensure they don’t slide into depression or find themselves in a similar territory.

Triza Muthoni at her home in Royalton, Eldoret town, where she stays with her elder sister  Wanjiru. She studied mental health to manage Wanjiru’s condition.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

“Please spare time with your child and create a strong bond because every child deserves to be loved. And if you are not in a happy marriage, you need to move out because most people end up into form of depression,” she argues.

Has her perception on men changed? “Yes, I now know there are good men out there and also bad ones. I have learnt to set my boundaries and I advise the girl child to first find their purpose in life and know their worth so that they don’t get into wrong relationships.”

In 2016, she moved to Eldoret to stay with her younger sister Triza Muthoni.  She says that in the last two years, her health has improved.

“I wish more people know about depression and sought help in hospital. I was given medication and told to eat healthy and avoid junk food,” adds Grace.

Free counselling

Trizah says that in 2018, through her sister’s experience, she co-founded the Growth Catalyst, a community-based organisation working with the youth and offering free counselling services on mental health.  

The 34-year-old has since enrolled at Catholic University of East Africa (CUEA) to pursue a course on counselling psychology to support many of people going through depression and other mental illnesses.

Dr Edith Kwobah, the head of mental health department at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital says that men complete suicide more (die from lethal means) while women make more attempts as they use milder forms.

 It is further estimated that between 10 and 14 of those who attempt suicide eventually end their lives through suicide. 

The mental health expert explains that even though there is no specific data on suicide in the country, it is estimated four lives are lost every day to suicide, painting a darker side of the condition. There is also huge treatment disparity like most mental health disorders.

Stigma for suicide

She observes women have anxiety and depression, which increases risk of suicide and medication is for the underlying mental illness, which is not readily available to those in need.

“An estimated 75 per cent of those who need help, cannot access medical treatment. Important to note is that 90 per cent of those who attempt have mental illness . . . there is also a lot of stigma for suicide including improper burials,” adds Dr Kwobah.

 According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 800,000 people die from suicide each year i.e. one person every 40 seconds. It is highly likely that for each adult who died of suicide, there may be more than 20 others attempting suicide.

WHO further estimates that for the year 2020 and based on current trends, approximately 1.53 million people will die from suicide, and 10 to 20 times more people will attempt suicide worldwide. This on average, represents one death every 20 seconds and one attempt one to two seconds.