Africa

Alarm sounds over rise in suicide cases in Kenya

On eve of World Suicide Prevention Day, health officials in Kenya say economic woes, mental distress sometimes lead people to take their lives

Andrew Wasike   | 09.09.2021
Alarm sounds over rise in suicide cases in Kenya

NAIROBI, Kenya

The concern is growing in the East African country of Kenya over an alarming rise in suicides. According to police, more than 500 people in the country took their lives in the first six months of 2021, more than in all of 2020.

On the eve of World Suicide Prevention Day, which is being observed on Friday, health officials said that economic woes are leading to depression. Frank Njenga, a psychiatrist practicing in the capital Nairobi, said this illness often remains undiagnosed due to stigma.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Njenga attributed the rising trend of people taking their own lives to social disruption caused by COVID-19. He urged the government to invest in improving public mental health.

Davis, who is now recuperating at a counseling center and wanted to give only one name, said COVID-19 made everything harder for him, as the virus’ economic disruption cost him his job.

“It reached a point that I didn’t want to live anymore,” he explained.

“I was wondering where I would get money to pay my bills and other problems affecting me. I was saved from near death and I found something to live for now that I’m stable thanks to a well-wisher.”

Admitting that the number of suicide cases was alarming, George Kinoti, chief of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations at the National Police Service, urged the taking of urgent remedial measures.

Decriminalization urged

According to a police report, central Kenya this year so far recorded the highest number of suicide cases, at 181. The Rift Valley region reported 68, Nyanza 67, Nairobi 63, the eastern region 57, the western region 29, the coastal region 14, and northeastern Kenya three cases so far this year.

Kenyan law criminalizes suicide. Health experts over the years have been urging the government to decriminalize suicide and invest in mental health programs.

Taking part in a seminar through a video link, Lukoye Atwoli, professor of psychiatry and dean of the Medical College, East Africa at Aga Khan University in Nairobi, said criminalization erects a considerable hurdle to provide relief to the people affected by depression.

“I consider this section of the law to be a serious indictment on how our society deals with our most vulnerable,” he said.

“Suicide attempts are at the tail end for a person who has severe psychological or social distress. It is not a decision anybody takes lightly, and it is sad that we as a society collectively seek to punish a person in that state of turmoil.”

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