What you need to know:
- Today, November 19, the world is celebrating International Men’s Day under the theme “Zero Male Suicide.”
- According to the World Health Organisation, the number of men who die by suicide is double that of women.
- Retired Rev Timothy Njoya, says it is culture that forces men to commit suicide.
Last October, a police officer died by suicide after shooting himself at the DCI headquarters on Kiambu Road, Nairobi. A week earlier, a senior police officer of Kayole Police Station in Nairobi shot himself at his home in Utawala area. These heart-breaking cases are a glimpse of the situation not only in Kenya, but globally.
Male suicide rates have been on the rise in the last two decades, with the World Health Organisation indicating that the number of men who die by suicide is double that of women. Its data indicates 12.6 deaths by suicide per 100,000 men compared to 5.4 per 100,000 for females.
It is, therefore, not shocking that organisers of International Men’s Day, which is being marked today, have chosen the theme “Zero male suicide”.
At least 80 countries in the world, Kenya included, mark this day.
Dr Jerome Teelucksingh a history lecturer at University of the West Indies in Trinidad Tabago, started International Men’s Day in 1999, to raise awareness on men’s and boy’s health.
He also sought to sensitise men on improving gender relations, promoting gender equality, and highlighting positive male role models.
During this day, men also highlight the discrimination they face.
But they also celebrate their positive achievements and contributions to communities, places of work, friendships, families, marriages, and child care.
“Men are very important in the society but they also face challenges that drive them into committing suicide,” Fredrick Nyagah, national founder and chairperson of Men Engage Kenya Network says.
“Often, we assume men are okay. That’s a very bad assumption. We should recognise that men also have their own needs.”
So, what pushes Kenyan men into taking their own lives?
According to Kenya's 2020 Economic Survey, 138 men died by suicide in 2020 compared to 36 women.
In the previous year, more (160) men had died. The figure for women remained unchanged.
However, in 2018, more women (155) had committed suicide than men (147).
“You can’t imagine the mental torture a man without a job goes through,” says Fred.
“Men with erectile dysfunction, low libido or temporary impotence suffer in silence. They will check into a hospital and claim that a friend has sent them to find out what he can do, yet they are the ones in need of help. So, we need service stations which are male friendly.”
Denis Njoroge, a Nairobi resident says he can never share his problems with anyone except his wife.
“My wife is the only person I trust. Even when I feel like resigning due to abnormal job targets, I share with her and she encourages me. I have no room for suicidal thoughts,” says Denis, an administration manager at a Nairobi company.
Erick Wamalwa, another Nairobi resident says in 2020, he had suicidal thoughts when his wife gave birth just after he had lost his job.
“I felt useless. I am the firstborn and my parents at home were expecting me to send them money. I could not tell them I had lost my software development job. I wanted to commit suicide but every time I looked at my son, I said I’ll fight on,” says Erick who now does freelance academic writing.
For Moses Keteko who lives in Kajiado, he handles pressure through seeking for forgiveness whenever he quarrels with his wife. He also seeks guidance from trustworthy peers and elders.
Retired Rev Timothy Njoya, says culture forces men to commit suicide.
“Men are being strangled by cultural problems. They are bogged down by the archaic culture passed down to them that they must be the providers and leaders. That they cannot do domestic work,” he notes.
He blames the church and the school for advancing dangerous African traditions.
To correct the toxic socialisation through schools, he recommends reviewing the curriculum to do away with the cultural codes. He also proposes retraining the teachers to realign their teaching with the new curriculum.
For church, he says, the men and women of God should teach their congregation that before God they are equal, a belief he says would eliminate tendencies of men killing themselves for feeling threatened by the progress made by women in education, at work and leadership.
“Genesis 1:26 says that when God created man and woman, he gave both of them the power to govern the environment. He did not give the power to only the man. It is the culture that perverted God’s word saying that it’s the men who are the head of the family,” he argues.
Rev Njoya says men have to be prepared to cope with an empowered woman and gender equality.
“The cases of men committing suicide will end the day men will accept that women are their equals,” he says.
Lilian Mbuthia, a social media manager, cites danger of the virtual world in the 21st century driving suicide among the adolescents and youth.
She lists online gaming and virtual dating sites, which encourage young people to engage in “extremely dangerous things.” This advice, which implies a sense of belonging and competition, pushes some of them to take their own lives without having a second thought that they are actually killing themselves.
“Let the parents, guardians and teachers talk to the pre-teens and the teens on the dangers of the virtual world,” she advises.
“And if they observe unusual behaviour among their children, and they are unable to talk to them, then let them take them for counselling. Let’s normalise counselling. There is no shame in seeking counselling," she says.
Dr Timothy Kinoti M'Ngaruthi, who is in charge of welfare of male students at the University of Embu says the boys feel neglected and thus see no reason to live.
“Whenever I talk to them they tell me that girls are favoured. They feel like no one cares about them. No one loves them such that on a slight provocation, they commit suicide,” he says.
He says the pressure to provide, pay dowry, use of drugs and parental neglect, have all contributed to suicide among the men and boys.
“For the men, suicide is a way of escaping from the world and it’s challenges,” he notes.
“In my opinion, the biggest problem is failure to adjust because men have always been there. But now the current man is too weak, and this is because of the way we are bringing them up. We are spoon feeding them. We have not exposed them to tough situations for them to learn how to solve them instead of running away from them.”
Dr Timothy says fathers ought to step up and nurture their boys to take control of their lives and face difficult situations head on.
“Men should also know that there are counselling services that they can take advantage of. There are also men they can talk to. Don’t kill yourself. Talk to an expert or an elder,” he advises.
To mark this year’s day, Men Engage Kenya Network has localised the theme to “healthy men, healthy nation,” which encourages men to prioritise their health.
It will be hosting a medical camp in Kajiado, a men-friendly service station for men to seek medical help and access check-up.
“Since 2021, we have used the day to amplify the aspect of men taking care of their health,” says Catherine Githae, the organisation’s programme manager.
“We also sensitise men to pay attention to depression among their sons and encourage them to express their feelings freely.”