Suicide cases to rise this year, experts warn

They link this to social stress and financial challenges related to the Covid-19 pandemic

In Summary

• In 2019, the report shows that 196 cases were reported, in 2018 there were 302 cases while 421 cases were reported in 2017.  In  2016, there were 302 cases.

• Most of the stress has been linked to financial challenges because many people have lost jobs or sources of income.

The number of suicide cases in the country is on the rise, according to government figures. 

Records currently with the police show that from the beginning of this year, at least 400 suicide cases have been reported. This is in sharp contrast to the previous years. 

According to the Economic Survey released last week, last year 174 suicide cases were reported.

In 2019, the report shows that 196 cases were reported, in 2018 there were 302 cases while 421 cases were reported in 2017. In 2016, there were 302 cases.

Health experts have warned that this year, cases will go up with a big margin. They have linked this rise to social stress related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Most of the stress has been linked to financial challenges because many people have lost jobs or sources of income.

“Lives are lost daily due to helplessness, triggered by suffering from either mental, physical pain, depression, financial woes, drug and substance abuse, although there are ways, all that can be prevented” the report reads.

Speaking to the Star on Monday, Psychiatrist Lukoye Atwoli said suicidal thoughts should be treated like a medical emergency that needs to be urgently attended to.

“There is a growing alarm in Kenya over the sudden rise in suicide cases especially among the youth and that is something we need to act directly on, from institutions, organisations and the government itself,” Lukoye said.

The world recognised September 5-11 as a suicide prevention week.

It sought to inform and engage health professionals and the general public about suicide prevention and warning signs of suicide.

Lukoye said as a complex process, suicide does not result from just one reason but a combination of triggers. 


“We must appreciate that nobody tries to kill themselves lightly, there must be significant intense pressure,” Lukoye said.

Lukoye highlighted a few signs including despair, feeling burdened and unbearable sadness or pain.

“To some extent, they may imply a desire to take their lives,” he said.

Lukoye further said one can notice outbursts of the mood from anger and neglect their looks and personal space.

“A change in appetite can also be another sign of depression and anxiety, with overeating and undereating a triggering factor, which at times may cause obesity and malnutrition,” he said.

The victim might also start talking about death more than usual. 


Lukoye explained that the first thing one should do is seek professional help on suicide hotlines.

“On a personal level, it is important to listen to the person carefully, make them feel understood, listen without judgment and underestimation of the subject, reminding them that the situation is not fixed and they are not alone and you are there for them,” he said.

Words to be avoided during the conversation include you are not the first one to go through that, it will pass, I have gone through that too, It is not a big deal. 

We need to remind them that help is always accessible, instead of waiting without doing anything.

Noting that the advice to get professional help is turned down most of the time, Lukoye said telling a family member or someone close to the person with suicidal thoughts about the problem stressing them is important for them not to feel alone.

He said unconditional love and acceptance regardless of the situation is also important.

“That feeling of acceptance may relieve any suicidal thoughts and their lives may not be endurable once they learn someone got their back,” Lukoye said.


The Kenya Counselling and Psychological Association chairperson and Kenya Association of Professional Counsellors executive director Elias Gikundi says the counselling turnout is low in learning institutions especially universities.

“Low levels of awareness of and sensitisation to what issues can be dealt with leads to low consumption of the service by students,” he said.

“Also there are low numbers of counsellors in universities to counter the huge numbers of students.”

According to research by the University of Nairobi, the majority of students did not seek counselling services although they were faced with various issues.

This was said by 57 per cent of counsellors and 65 per cent of students.

Further, 43 per cent of the counsellors and 50 per cent of the students indicated that students sought counselling mostly in times of crisis.

Some 43 per cent of counsellors and 34 per cent of students felt that students in the first year of study present themselves for counselling more than other academic years.

The report recommended organisations and corporate institutions invest in wellness programs and insurance for their employees.


KCPA chair asked the government to invest in the prevention of mental health just like the health sector in the country.

“Health is wealth, and there is no health without mental health,” he said.

Gikundi further recommends enough funding and inclusion of mental health in the national health budget.

The mental health action plan 2021-25 report released on June 14  indicates that the rising burden of mental health and high costs of treatment is what is putting Kenyans off from seeking these services.

Social determinants of mental health in a changing world include conflicts, trauma and humanitarian emergencies, population movements.

Others are urbanisation, socioeconomic and sociocultural disadvantages, climate change and technological advancement low level of mental health literacy, increasing prevalence and trends of substance use and addictive behaviours.


“Life can be complicated at times, but living with the complexity is possible, you are not alone,” Lukoye said.

“Humans are social beings and interaction is vital for us, and there are people who can help us find the solution for our problems,”

He said, suicide may seem like a solution to face helplessness but it isn’t, all problems have alternate solutions.

“Don’t be afraid to talk and ask for help”


On the eve of World Suicide Prevention Day, which was feted on September 9, the hard economic times Kenyans are facing is highly contributing to depression especially among the youth, leaving the illness undiagnosed due to stigma.

According to the economic survey report 2021, Central is leading with more than 181 cases this year.

Rift valley reported 68, Nyanza 67, Nairobi 63, the eastern region 57, the western region 29, the coastal region 14, and Northeastern had three cases.

The World Health Organization attributes 77 per cent of global suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries.

Section 226 of Kenya’s penal code says “any person who attempts to kill himself (sic) is guilty of a misdemeanour”, which the human rights body likened to “re-victimisation of already vulnerable victims” while placing those already socially and economically vulnerable people at an even greater disadvantage.


Edited by Kiilu Damaris