Revealed: Worrying trend on suicide cases among men in Kisii
"Kisii man goes berserk, burns family home, digs grave after an investment goes up in smoke," screamed a recent headline on Nation. Africa.
This highlighted a report on an incident of a man who went ballistic and attempted to take his life and that of his wife and three children.
He reportedly dug two graves in one of his houses, one for his wife and another for his one-year-old son, before tying a rope to the roof of his house to hang himself. The incident left residents of Ibacho, Kisii County, in shock.
Previously, a 40-year-old teacher in the county he left formal employment to start a family-run primary school. He took a loan from a self-help group to fund his business.
At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, with financial downtimes and uncertain times, he was not able to pay up the loan whose interest accrued after he defaulted on his repayment.
The self-help group auctioned his land and this marked the beginning of his problems. Depressed, the teacher would turn to drugs. He has since been arrested and charged in court.
Twenty-five Kilometres away in Keroka Township, another sad state of affairs would follow at the end of August. Erick Makoro, on a suicide mission, locked the doors to his house, set it ablaze and killed himself alongside his two children.
A police report declared that the 43-year-old, diagnosed with mental illness at Masaba Sub County Hospital in Keroka, had quarrelled with his wife the night before the incident.
The two latest reported incidences in Kisii have caused an uproar, lifting the lid on mental health and suicide.
The World Health Organization (WHO) data listed suicide as among the leading causes of death around the globe. More than 700,000 people die by suicide every year. Every forty seconds, we lose a loved one to suicide. Furthermore, for each suicide, there are more than 20 suicide attempts.
The UN agency says in every suicide and suicide attempt the ripple effect impacts families, friends, colleagues, communities and societies.
A report by the WHO indicates that the number of suicides reported in Kenya rose by 58 per cent between 2008 and 2017.
KNHCR puts the numbers at 1,442 attempted suicides between 2015 and 2018.
A further report by the Kenya Police and Ministry of Health recorded 483 deaths in 2021, a marked increase from the annual average of 320 cases.
During the same period - between March and June – statistics compiled by the Department of Criminal Investigations indicate the country recorded 409 cases of life-threatening assaults, mostly among couples.
The Kenya Police report said between April and June 2021, Kisii ranked third among counties with high suicide rates after Murang’a and Kiambu.
With reports also indicating that men are more prone to committing suicide than women; mental ill-health and 'warped' notions of masculinity were among the reasons mooted for the rise of suicides by nearly 50 per cent in a year.
Other causes of suicides in Kisii County reveal a deeply patriarchal society where men are dismissed even when they decide to open up.
Dr Mary Njuguna, a consultant psychiatrist at Kisii Teaching and Referral Hospital (KTRH) attributes the rising cases of suicide to a lack of socialisation.
“As medics, we have noticed that men are meant to be strong and shouldn’t openly express their emotions in public,” says Dr Njuguna.
The medic who also doubles up as the Kisii County Mental Health Focal person also says societal upbringing has greatly contributed to the rising cases of suicides.
“Suicide attempts all point to a medical condition,” she added.
Some of the factors that might lead to death by suicide are mental illnesses and depression.
“Depression has several symptoms like feelings of hopelessness, guilt which can lead to someone having suicidal thoughts,” said Dr Njuguna.
Dr Njuguna says myths and misconceptions are ruining the gains made toward mental health awareness.
September being suicide awareness and prevention month, the county and its partners have increased campaigns to bring down the numbers.
Stakeholders have also sought to demystify notions that mental health is a result of witchcraft and in other cases a 'disease of the elite'.
National Government Administration Officers (NGAO) in Kisii led by Kisii Deputy Central Commissioner Wilberforce Kilonzo have used the initiative, ‘Baraza La Wanaume’- a safe space forum for men to discuss their issues.
“We offer men a platform to speak out about their personal and marital problems that may lead to suicidal thoughts,” said Mr Kilonzo when he launched the program in Kerera location in December 2021.
Other initiatives by locals include “A Million Hugs” and “Threshold of Hope”, both psychosocial support and mental wellness groups.
Ms Margaret Mogaka, a counselling psychologist cited poor data on the cases as a deterrent to fighting the menace.
“Shame, punishment and fear also through stigmatisation and criminalising of suicide have contributed to people not coming out to share their thoughts,” says Ms Mogaka.
The suicide awareness efforts have seen stakeholders led by KNHRC and The Kenya Psychiatrists Association seeking to declare a section of the penal code that outlaws attempted suicide as unconstitutional.
They argue that efforts to address the root causes of suicide were hampered by the criminalisation of the act.
A report by WHO indicated that 77 per cent of suicides occur among middle and low-income countries.
Kenya, which falls in this category, has upped its suicide prevention strategies.
In June 2019, during Madaraka Day celebrations, former President Uhuru Kenyatta formed a task force to delve into the state of mental health in Kenya.
“Depression has today become a common phenomenon and it affects persons from all walks of life and ages,” said the head of state as he also created for the first time, an office of the Presidential Advisor on Mental Health.
The task force report recommended among others an increased budgetary allocation for mental health from 0.001 per cent to the global standard of 2 per cent.
The upgrading and renovation of mental health facilities were also proposed with Mathari Mental Health Hospital fronted into a semi-autonomous facility.
The hospital now receives direct funding from the exchequer unlike previously through the ministry of health.
The Kajiado mental wellness facility construction was also launched a year later.
Other efforts also include the Mental Health Bill 2020 and Suicide Prevention Strategy 2021-2026 which seek to attain a 10 per cent reduction in suicide mortality by 2026.