World Suicide Prevention Day is commemorated on September 10. This year, the Rock and Roll Film Festival Kenya (ROFFEKE) in collaboration with Let’s Talk Mental Health Kenya marked the day by hosting an event that combined a series of talks, a panel discussion, movie screenings and poetry to break the silence around suicide and sensitise the public on suicide prevention.
ROFFEKE is a film festival conglomerate that aims to promote rock music through film in Kenya, as well as debunking myths about rock music in the country.
The films are selected based on two criteria: a soundtrack that features rock music and a rock theme. For the event, the films also focused on suicide and mental health as a prevalent theme. Submissions come from film makers around the world, both amateur and professional, all conveying powerful messages about the importance of life and illustrating the anatomy of a suicidal mind.
The speakers tackled suicide from a variety of perspectives, including how being surrounded by nature improves your mood, how emotional issues contribute to suicide and how to cope with suicidal thoughts.
Speaking with Mildred Achoch, founder of ROFFEKE, about her vision for the event, she expressed how she thinks rock music intersects with suicide.
“It is one of the most poignant forms of music,” she said. “Now, rock is very wide, ranging from The Blues to the different subgenres of heavy metal but I'll take The Blues as an example.
The Blues emerged from negro spirituals and slave songs then it influenced Doo Wop, early rock 'n' roll and early heavy metal.
There is always that underlying tone of sadness or poignancy in the best rock songs. Furthermore, rock 'n' roll is the child of country music and The Blues. Fans of country music know very well that many country songs are poignant,” she added.
When asked about the film selection, Mildred affirmed: “The short films I selected touch on the theme of suicide and suicide prevention. Nevermind, directed by Jean-Marc E. Roy is a one-actress short film where she remembers 1994, the year when Kurt Cobain - of successful rock band Nirvana - shot himself. PHAT Girl by One Single Rose (Rosemarie Wilson) is all about loving yourself, whatever your body size. Body shaming can drive people to contemplate suicide.”
‘CELEBRATION OF MUSIC’
“Contagious (featuring the song "Contagious" by Kenyan rock band Murfy's Flaw) is a celebration of music, and especially the power of rock music to help us get rid of stress, come together and just enjoy life. It is a student film that was directed by Neil and Raviv Haeems.
Wonton Raptor by Dr Robert David Duncan is a microfilm (39 seconds), a quick shot of encouragement, telling us to savour life, to live life to the fullest. He shot it using a smartphone.
Joseph Ochieng also used a smartphone to shoot his short film Tap which shows how technology has taken infidelity to another level.
If you use the search terms "Kenya infidelity suicide" you will see the many stories of people who died of suicide after finding out that their partner cheated on them. Tap features the song "Aha", another one by Kenyan rock band Murfy's Flaw,” she said.
The panellists shared touching yet informative stories that framed how the families and friends of the bereaved cope with suicide and how we can do better to reach out and create safe spaces for those contemplating suicide and survivors of suicide attempt to help them reintegrate into the community. One of them, Jemedari, a local artist, challenged the audience to go “beyond doing the bare minimum” and communicate with their friends.
“If you can diagnose what is wrong with a car’s engine by listening to the exhaust, why not find out how your friend is doing by noting a change in their behaviour?” he said.
Another panellist, Dr Shevvy Mugweru, focused his discussion on how to effectively rehabilitate those with suicidal thoughts.
“The first step is to validate this person’s life. When they ask who ‘why am I still here’, ask them ‘why not?’” he said. He added that after affirming the patient’s life the next step is to help them “set attainable goals for their lives”.
Going forward, he asserted that it is imperative to “engage the patient in a life experience” as this will give them fulfilment and purpose. This also includes fostering a strong support system. Finally, he urged the audience to “encourage the person to speak out.”
He closed by saying that recommending professionals is an important step in the rehabilitation of a depressed or suicidal person.
In conclusion, Mildred challenged the audience to stop referring to a death by suicide as having been “committed”. In her parting comments, she said, “‘They committed suicide’, criminalises suicide. They died from suicide should be the correct description."