WHEN DEPRESSION REACHES ITS PEAK

Spike in suicide cases a sign of an ailing society

Life has become stressful and people struggling to cope with its challenges are increasingly seeing suicide as an exit strategy

In Summary

• Key risk factor include alcohol and substance abuse, as well as mental disorders. 

• Inadequate awareness of mental health leads to mental disorders being treated as emergencies.

Police officers load the body of a 21 year old watchman Antony Mugendi who committed suicide in Blue Valley Estate in Embu Town.
Police officers load the body of a 21 year old watchman Antony Mugendi who committed suicide in Blue Valley Estate in Embu Town.
Image: REUBEN GITHINJI

We are a sick society, if the number of suicide cases happening around us is anything to go by.

If you are like most people, you have heard of a suicide case involving someone you are familiar with or their close relative. What's more worrying is that children as young as eight have chosen this tragic end to their lives.

Headlines such as 'Worrying trends of suicide cases in Kenya', 'Kenya suicide rate hits 10-year high' and 'Man commits suicide in police cell' are not new anymore. Are all these occurrences pointing towards a problem in the society?

Psychologist Riziki Ahmed says life has become stressful and people have not found adequate mechanisms to cope with the challenges it presents.

Alcohol and substance abuse, she said, are key risk factors, alongside mental disorders like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and personality disorders.

The elephant in the room, however, is the largely ignored disorder called depression — feelings of severe despondency and dejection.

MAKING OF MISERY

Catherine (not her real name) suffered from depression when her husband, Kevin, with whom she has two children, walked out on her. The two met while in college and fell head over heels for each other.

Before long, Catherine conceived. She was forced to defer her studies to concentrate on raising her daughter. Kevin took care of their financial needs.

When her daughter was two years old and Catherine was set to resume studies, she realised she was expecting a second child.

 
 
 
 
 

Her husband’s finances also took a tumble after he lost his job. The company where he worked was making losses and was forced to lay off some staff. Kevin was one of them.

With a little child, a pregnant wife and too little money to make ends meet, Kevin opted to go back to his parents’ house together with his family.

Out of frustration, Kevin took to drinking to drown his misery. Catherine stood by him, hoping things would get better. They did. Kevin landed a job in Tanzania.

He settled in his new job, but contrary to his wife’s expectations, he did not send any money home.

Communication between him and his wife became strained, as he always had excuses as to why he was not calling home frequently. Catherine got concerned. She sensed something was wrong.

One day while randomly going through her Facebook account, she saw something that made her heart skip a beat. Kevin had posted photos of himself and a woman whom he described as his ‘sunshine’.

Back in Kenya, Catherine was living in her in-laws’ home with two little children and no means of livelihood.

Her world was shattered. All she did was cry and blame herself for not being a ‘good’ wife. She couldn’t eat and within no time, she could no longer breastfeed her baby, as she hardly had any milk.

Sleep became elusive and Catherine no longer wanted anybody to visit her. The bubbly woman, who was always posting photos of her life, became withdrawn and was no longer active on social media.

SUICIDE ATTEMPT

Catherine wouldn’t be alive today had her mother-in-law not walked in on her one fateful Thursday afternoon and found her lying unconscious on her bed, pills sprawled all around her.

Beside her lay a suicide note. It said life had lost meaning. “Please take care of my children and tell them that I couldn’t stand seeing them suffer,” the note read in part.

Catherine had been battling with depression. She is still under medication and is responding well.

What nobody knew, however, is that her grandfather and an uncle had also suffered from this disorder but were shunned by society because people said they had been bewitched.

Depression is a mental disorder that presents with a sad mood, feelings of anxiety, guilt and shame. A person suffering from the disorder often feels hopeless and helpless and may have suicidal thoughts.

“The brain, just like any other part of the body, can get sick,” psychologist Riziki said.

Any time a person tells you or posts on social media that they want to commit suicide that is a cry for help.
Psychologist Riziki Ahmed

A person’s family history, where a relative suffered from a mental disorder, can highly predispose them to depression. Anxiety disorders, mood disorders and personality disorders also contribute to depression.

Riziki said lack of awareness on mental health has greatly contributed to stigma, as people with a mental disorder are said to have been bewitched or are mad.

“Some mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, mostly occur in adolescence or early adulthood and cause people to behave abnormally. When people see a person talking to himself, carrying luggage and walking naked, they are likely to say huyo ni mwenda wazimu (that is a mad person). However, having a mental disorder does not equate to insanity," she said.

People who go through traumatic life events, such as survivors of terror attacks, road accidents and fire are likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder and are susceptible to depression.

DISTRESS MESSAGES

Riziki said inadequate awareness on mental health leads to mental disorders being treated as emergencies when tragic occurrences happen, while ignoring warning signs that are always visible.

She said taking one’s life is a very hard decision to make. However, people may not state it directly. One may, for example, say, “I wish I was dead and buried,” or “I’m so tired, I wish I could rest permanently.”

She added that more often than not, depressed persons usually have a suicide plan, such as to jump from the top of a building, hanging and taking poison or pills.

Not so long ago, a college student, 20, committed suicide after she found out her boyfriend was cheating on her.

Though she had shared with her friends that she intended to take her life and even posted a video where she was taking pills, not much was done to save her life.

Some of the distress messages she sent to her friends read, “I am sorry but I can’t take it anymore. Kelvoh is the last thing I wanted to lose. There’s no life without him. Suicide was the last thing I ever thought of but I give up. All the best and don’t miss me.”

She later sent a WhatsApp message to another friend, saying she did not want to live a second longer and that she had reached the end.

She then posted a photo of white pills in an unwrapped brown paper, with some having spilled on a bed sheet.

The girl also shared a video popping the pills and forcing them down her throat with water before moving away from the camera.

“Anytime you see such messages, even from a stranger, you should act fast because you could save a life,” Riziki urged.