TICKING TIME BOMB

Marital differences at the heart of many suicides

From blaming them on witchcraft to believing mental health problems are only experienced by the rich, suicides are mired in ignorance. Sadly, the people with answers are no longer with us

In Summary

• Men are more likely to be victims of suicide because of the methods they use.

• Many couples live in the same house as strangers in symbiotic relationships.

Joseph Gitau, Joyce Wanjiru and one of their two children who were found dead in an alleged suicide in Thome on July 10, 2019
Joseph Gitau, Joyce Wanjiru and one of their two children who were found dead in an alleged suicide in Thome on July 10, 2019
Image: FAITH MUTEGI

It was a pleasantly chilly evening in Muchogomo village, Meru county, with farmers on their way back from weighing their tea leaves and tilling their land.

They are on a slow mode, chatting about events of the week, exhausted, subdued and numb as they walk back to their homes in a grateful and hopeful spirit for a fruitful new day.

The mood changes when someone says in a low tone that a neighbour had committed suicide. Gitonga Javan, a father and brother well known to residents, had taken his own life on his third attempt.

 
 

“I had interacted with him every day for the past week and every single day has been different, but now it makes sense,” a cousin called John said.

He said Gitonga’s front yard had overgrown weeds, with his homestead stinking of vomit and Diazinon insecticide. His neck had deep wounds, allegedly from previous suicide attempts.

Both his relatives and neighbours said he was not okay, foregoing basic things like a hairdo. He would not bother to eat, either. Gitonga had marital problems after his wife moved out of their matrimonial home to a nearby market, taking all his children with her.

 

Gitonga was left alone, lonely and distraught.

“This was not the first time he tried to take his own life. He had taken poison before and hanged himself in vain. The rope was too weak for his weight,” one of Gitonga’s relatives said.

The third time, however, Gitonga bought a strong purple nylon rope at a Sh100 from a nearby market, ensuring this time he would see his plans through to the last second. A relative found him hanging on a mango tree next to his home with his face filled with helplessness and despair in his eyes.

Throughout his last days, Gitonga insisted he was tired of living and that his thoughts were too painful, with a constant desire to die. He said his marital problems were too dire for him to keep living.

 
 

The late Gitonga’s neighbours are still aware of this and other marital problems that loom around them but are unwilling to talk about them. Instead, they choose a normal, quiet, busy life, with some villagers blaming all suicides on witchcraft. They are unaware of the danger that lurks in relationships with no communication.

NO DIALOGUE

A few villages away on the same day in Chuka town, a similar case is reported with another man hanging himself for unknown reasons. The family was not aware of any problems in the man’s life, only speculating after they found him hanging on a tree in his front yard.

Residents say police have collected five bodies of people who committed suicide in various ways, a claim dismissed by a senior police officer from the region. The officer said suicide cases are rare in his area of jurisdiction, with the two cases surprising many people.

Away from Meru a week later in Kajiado county, former Isukha Central MCA Richard Muchesia shot dead his wife on a Tuesday night before turning the gun on himself.

Muchesia allegedly had domestic differences with his wife before the incident. A similar shocking incident was reported in Nairobi’s Thome estate, where a woman hacked her husband to death and strangled her two children before hanging herself.

The husband, Joseph Gitau, was allegedly too withdrawn and embarrassed to admit that his wife, Joyce Wanjiru, was battering him. The two had marital problems, which led Gitau to move out of their home once due to alleged infidelity by the wife only to come back later. “Gitau was too reserved to admit any marital problems in his relationship,” said Stephen, one his close friends.

At Gitau and his family’s funeral in Lang’ata cemetery, his family and friends were keen to speak about the importance of seeking external intervention in case of irreconcilable marital problems.

Jane Mugure, a teacher to one of Gitau’s children, said things have changed because people do not communicate anymore. She said people work too hard and too fast, with couples living in the same house as strangers in a symbiotic relationship. 

Thome’s Nyumba Kumi chairman Geoffrey Mwangi pointed out that out of 10 people who commit suicide, nine could be saved through favourable intervention. Mwangi, who was among the first people at the scene, encouraged people to embrace conflict resolution methods and seek marital counselling when necessary.

Sonko Rescue Team helps in laying to rest the family of a 32-year-old woman who killed her husband and their two children before committing suicide at Langata cemetery on July 18, 2019
Sonko Rescue Team helps in laying to rest the family of a 32-year-old woman who killed her husband and their two children before committing suicide at Langata cemetery on July 18, 2019
Image: FAITH MUTEGI

HARD TO UNDERSTAND

Suicide has a close link with drug and substance abuse, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar and anxiety disorders according to WHO.

 

Clinical psychologist, psychotherapist and well-being coach Dr Kirindi Odindo, said death through suicide is complex, with a multitude of causes. For this reason, no one can fully understand the reasons of suicide since the victims are dead.

However, Dr Kirindi said men are more likely to be victims of suicide because of the methods they use.

“Women use soft methods of suicide like overdosing on medicine, compared to men who are violent and use more final methods like guns and ropes to end their lives,” Dr Kirindi said, speaking at Headspace254, a forum founded for artistes to seek intervention from professionals for mental health problems.

She also said women are willing to share their problems, while men are encouraged to “man up” and be strong from an early age.

According to Dr Kirindi, having symptoms of depression and suicidal ideas is different from acting upon it. She said human beings have to be careful not to glorify the existence of something and not to minimise it when there are risks.

Some of the warning signs she highlighted were people claiming to be in unbearable pain or feeling trapped, having a constant obsession with death and wanting to kill yourself, feeling hopeless and exercising withdrawal or isolation, sleeping too much or too little and displaying extreme mood swings. Other people might show rage and a need to seek revenge for various acts.

WHO reports prevalent risk factors to committing suicide include mental and marital problems, unemployment, sexual abuse and access to firearms.

However, in Kenya, people have deviated from seeking help, with some blaming mental health problems on witchcraft. Some people allege that mental disorders are “a creation of the white man”.

Most people seek religious intervention to no success, while other people claim that only the rich experience mental health problems. Musician Octopizzo used music as a form of therapy.

“Growing up in Kibera, we were taught that issues to deal with mental health are only experienced by the rich,” he said. Currently, Octopizzo has expressed his dedication to ensuring artistes get the mental health care they need through forums like Headspace254.

The World Health Organisation states that close to 800,000 people commit suicide every year, translating to one person every 40 seconds, with men taking the lead. In Kenya, marital problems have taken a huge portion of the blame for deaths as a result of suicide.

Even though the main purpose of marriage is to solidify love, relationships and companionship, fear, frustrations and mistrust are constantly rocking the institution of marriage, with men bearing the brunt.

The threads knitting homes together have been torn due to lack of communication and early intervention, leading to loss of lives. The result is a silent society who vowed, “till death do us part”, not knowing when death will strike.

However, the irony of suicide is that the people with all the answers are not with us.

A purple rope used by Gitonga Javan to take his own life
A purple rope used by Gitonga Javan to take his own life
Image: FAITH MUTEGI