In the last year, there have been multiple reports on suicide featured in the media. The recent death of Norah Chelagat Borus, the top female student in the 2013 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE), is one of them. She was found dead in her room at Stanford University on June 14, and the medical examiner’s office in Santa Clara, in the US state of California, confirmed that she had committed suicide.
Suicide is associated with mental disorders, such as depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and alcohol and other substance abuse. Besides depression, other risk factors include physical or sexual abuse, unemployment, strained relationships, imprisonment, chronic physical illness, financial difficulties, loneliness, and exposure to the suicidal behaviour of others.
A World Bank report released last year shows that a total of 1.9 million depression cases were reported in Kenya by 2015. The report ranked Kenya as the sixth country with the highest number of depression cases among African countries. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that the number of suicides reported in Kenya rose by 58 per cent between 2008 and 2017 to reach 421.
Out of the 421 suicide cases in 2017, 330 involved men compared to 91 women. On average, 317 people commit suicide every year. Dr Pacifica Onyancha, head preventive and promotive department at the Ministry of Health, says that acknowledgment of mental illness carries a stigma that impedes its early recognition and treatment. The rise in mental health-related deaths was the talk of the town last week when Kenyan hosted its first-ever national mental health conference, to make better mental health a public priority and part of the socio-economic agenda.
Speaking during the conference Dr Virginia Smith-Swintosky, Johnson & Johnson’s GPH Mental Health Global Health Programme leader, said that it is essential to talk about mental health. “One in four people are affected, and that means that all of us have some type of experience in our lifetime whether it’s ourselves personally or someone we know, and so we must prioritise it in the healthcare agenda,” she said.
HEALTH FOR ALL
Dr Rudi Eggers, the WHO representative in Kenya, said that it is time to make mental healthcare accessible for all. “Mental health still maintains a neglected part of the global efforts to improve health,” Eggers said. “People with mental health conditions experience widespread human rights violations, discrimination, and stigma. More than 80 per cent of people experiencing mental health conditions, including individuals experiencing neurological and substance abuse, are without any form of quality, affordable mental healthcare support.”