World Suicide Month, Mental Health A Factor.

World Suicide Month, Mental Health A Factor.

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As the world observes World Suicide Month, Kenyans have been urged to report cases of people exhibiting suicide tendencies.

At the celebration in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu county, Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH) Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Dr. Wilson Arwasa, has urged members of the public to speak out and take action by picking out people who appeared disturbed or behaving in an unusual manner or talking of ideas relating to taking their own life, by seeking help for them. The help could be right from the community level, local hospitals all the way to national health facilities like the MTRH and Mathare National Hospital.

“We are embarking on prevention and it starts with action, When you see somebody is distracted, what can you do? we do not need to lose another life to suicide yet it is something that can be prevented,” he said.

On his part, the Mathare Teaching and Referral Hospital Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dr. Julius Ogato, indicated that suicide and mental illness are here with us and are preventable and that the government has invested heavily in health facilities and workforce to ensure that when people are affected, they can come forward and get treated.

“I am appealing to all Kenyans, when you see somebody having some behaviour tendencies that are not proper, and sounding out ideas or conclusions that do not make sense, kindly show empathy to them and bring them to us. This is our business, this is what we do, we treat those kinds of people and restore life for them because mental illness steals the social aspect of them,” he added.

Mathari Hospital is a specialized National Referral, Training, and Research Public Institution in mental health in Kenya. It is Kenya’s premier psychiatric hospital and is the national psychiatric teaching and referral hospital. 

In her remarks, Uasin Gishu Women Representative, Glady Boss Shollei, pointed out the high prevalence of suicide cases among people the age of 18 – 49 years, which implies that the majority of the affected are young. She called on the residents to stop stigmatizing people with mental illness some are attributed to illicit alcohol which compels them to commit suicide.

She advocated for an amendment to the law to decriminalize attempted suicide because it usually occurs as a result of mental illness or alcohol and drug abuse.

“As the law recognizes attempted suicide as a criminal offense, I advocate that it is decriminalized because it is a result of mental illness or alcohol and drug abuse,” she said.

According to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) report, efforts to address the root causes of suicide were hampered by the criminalization of attempted suicide.

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

Suicide remains a crime in at least 20 countries around the world, with some laws dating back to 160 years ago.

Criminalizing suicide doesn’t prevent people from acting on suicidal thoughts: it simply, stops them from reaching out and seeking help in times of acute crisis which further stigmatizes mental ill health, and hampers efforts to prevent, diagnose, and treat mental health conditions.

The KNCHR has asked a committee of the Senate to push for the amendment of Section 226 of the Penal Code of laws of Kenya that slap criminal liability on individuals who try suicide.

The Commission argues that individuals who attempt to kill themselves have mental illness and they deserve to be taken for medical care instead of being arrested and charged in a court of law.

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Unfortunately, a large number of mental health problems remain undiagnosed and consequently unmanaged across Africa. Mental illness has thus been termed the continent’s “silent epidemic”.

 The age of suicide victims is dropping, and we are increasingly seeing younger people commit suicide following disappointment with their academic performances or bullying from their peers. What is not discussed though, is the fact that the risk for suicide is enhanced by poor mental health among children and adolescents.

Official numbers on suicide in Kenya may be difficult to get due to apparent under-reporting or misreporting of such deaths, in part because there are penalties in Kenyan law for attempting suicide, as well as higher levels of stigmatization. Yet, it is clear that deaths from suicide deal a devastating blow to families, friends, and communities.

Any suicidal thoughts or behavior should and must be taken seriously and addressed as soon as possible.

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