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How to tell a person is suicidal

Demystifying the patterns of suicide

Deaths by suicide are mostly difficult to prevent

On December 20, the body of Samuel Kiama was found dangling from the roof of his house in Kianyaga town.

Kiama had committed suicide. A day earlier, the body of a Form Two student was found hanging from the roof of their home in Njabini, Nyandarua County. She had committed suicide after her mother took her phone away.

These are just two of the many cases of suicide that has now become common.

Deaths by suicide are mostly difficult to prevent. Dr Chris Hart, a psychologist based in Nairobi, says this is because it is extremely difficult to spot a person on his way to committing suicide. “Everything about them will look right until the very last moments when they engage in illogical activities,” he says.

He nonetheless adds that only very few people commit suicide on impulse. “People who commit suicide usually have triggers that have been brewing for some time waiting to go off,” he says.

This is echoed by a new study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), US, and published in the journal JAMANetwork. The study examined the signs and patterns of suicide.


Shockingly, it found out that people who deliberately harm themselves are more than twice as likely to commit suicide over the next one year. Also, people who show suicidal ideation are 31 per cent more likely to end up committing suicide after professional treatment over the next one year.

“Patients with bipolar disorder, depression or alcohol disorder also have a remarkably high risk of suicide,” said Dr Sidra Goldman-Mellor who led the study.

According to the World Health Organisation, Kenya has so far failed to come up with a reliable register for deaths by suicides. Globally, WHO estimates that one person dies from suicide every 40 seconds. At the same time, an individual seeking to commit suicide will try to rationalise their resolution and means. “The pain of existence often becomes too much to bear and their state of depression warps their thinking into ideas such as ‘They’ll be better off without me,’ in order to rationalise their suicide,” says Dr Alex Lickerman, the author of The Undefeated Mind.

“These people don’t usually want to die, but do want to alert those around them that something is seriously wrong. In some cases, they choose methods they think can’t cause death, but which end up fatally, like swallowing poison,” says Lickerman.