About seven million Kenyans have attempted suicide at least once, a study by the Ministry of Health has shown.
Head of Mental Health Promotion at the ministry Catherine Syengo said the study, which was carried out in western Kenya, showed that 16 per cent of the country’s population or 7.2 million people had attempted to kill themselves.
The World Health Organization says an estimated 800,000 people kill themselves worldwide yearly, meaning a suicide takes place every 40 seconds.
Another 25 times more, or 12 million, attempt suicide.
Suicide and suicidal behaviour mainly affect the young and is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10 to 29 globally.
Seventy eight percent of these deaths occurred in low and middle-income countries in 2015.
Dr Syengo urged Kenyans to listen to those in distress and offer non-judgmental counsel, saying suicidal behaviour can be changed.
“We put emphasis on maternal deaths and others that occur due to communicable diseases, but as a community and members of the mental health profession, the one mortality and psychiatric emergency we help prevent is suicide,” she said at Mathari Hospital, Nairobi during a function held to mark the World Suicide Prevention Day.
The medic added that many suicide victims wanted someone to listen to their problems.
“Many of those who have attempted suicide have told us that at some point, they hoped somebody would listen to them and ask how they were doing.
"If we cared and made a call to those who are far from us or in distress around us, we would prevent suicide,” Dr Syengo told participants.
She asked Kenyans to play their part to ensure reduction and eventual eradication of suicide.
The medic also appealed to Kenyans not to stigmatise suicide, saying it was fuelling the scourge.
“Children and teenagers have problems such as competitive school systems.
"It is not possible to have every child at the top since people have different talents and abilities. Aging can also contribute to suicidal tendencies.
"We need to kill stigma and listen to distressed people in order to help them,” Dr Syengo added.
She said the ministry had embarked on a training programme targeting staff and the wider community in a bid to stem the tide of suicide.
The programme would also target the military, police, prisons, National Youth Service and other cadres of the disciplined forces.
“While on duty, some of our officers encounter experiences that could lead to suicidal thoughts if not checked and resolved in time.
"We intend to reach out to them through this programme so that they are not emotionally and psychologically overwhelmed,” she said.
Health Principal Secretary Julius Korir echoed Dr Syengo’s words.
“In many instances, suicides have been have been occasioned by the behaviour or perceived behaviour of persons around victims.
"Yet taking a minute to offer words of support and listening in a non-judgemental manner can make the difference,” Dr Korir said in a speech read on his behalf by head of Curative and Preventive Services Isaac Odongo.
He said it was vital for communities to be made aware of mental health first aid procedures.
“The ministry is committed to addressing the high negative impact of suicide mortality on society in line with development plans,” he said.