Activist says suicide should be viewed as health problem

Sunday May 19 2019

Ms Florah Igoki

Ms Florah Igoki, a mental health and women rights activist. She called for the decriminalisation of suicide in Kenya. PHOTO | DAVID MUCHUI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

DAVID MUCHUI
By DAVID MUCHUI
More by this Author

A mental health activist has called for the repealing of the section of the penal code that criminalises suicide in Kenya.

Award winning Flora Igoki, a Kenyan-Canadian, who fled the country in 2008 after being attacked by political goons, said suicide should be recognised as a health condition.

Section 226 of the Penal Code states that “any person who attempts to kill himself is guilty of a misdemeanour.”

According to the section 36 of the Penal Code, a misdemeanour without a specific punishment is punishable with imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or with a fine, or both.

SUICIDE INCIDENTS

The annual Kenya National Bureau of Statistics economic survey lists suicide as a homicide where 177 suicide incidents were reported to the police in 2018 compared to 421 in 2017.

Similar calls were earlier made by Dr Lukoye Atwoli, who termed the law as “vile and obnoxious” and called for mental health professionals to be allowed to manage patients without undue interference by law enforcers.

Ms Igoki called for allocation of more resources towards mental healthcare in the country to ensure cases of depression that lead to suicide are immediately treated.

TRAUMA

“After I was attacked by goons for vying for a political seat in North Imenti in 2007, I lost my son to post-election violence leading to post-traumatic stress disorder. As an immigrant in Canada, I attempted suicide twice but due to lack of stigma on mental illness and proper treatment, I learned to overcome the condition,” Ms Igoki said.

She said she is looking for a Kenyan legislator who can spearhead the decriminalisation of suicide in Kenya.

FIGHT STIGMA

The motivational speaker and author called for concerted efforts to fight mental health stigma that she blamed for rising cases of suicide.

“The high number of suicides and murders affecting the young people should be a wake-up call for the society and the government. Suicide is a disease and those who are rescued should be treated and not bundled into jail,” she said.

Ms Igoki said even with little resources, the government can promote the use of cognitive behavioural therapy that involves talking to manage problems and change the way one thinks and behaves.

According to the recent economic survey, more men than women commit suicide.

The survey shows that 147 men were reported to have committed suicide in 2018 compared to 30 women.