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What pushes college students to commit suicide?

Friday March 29 2019

varsity suicides

Sandra Mwimali (left), Hellen Shikanda both of Moi University and Thuku Karanja of St Paul's University. They explain how college students deal with trauma of broken relationships. PHOTOS | COURTESY 

JAMES KAHONGEH
By JAMES KAHONGEH
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By the time Fridah Makena took her phone to film herself taking pills to end her life early this month, she had had it all.

The Meru National Polytechnic student suspected that her boyfriend had been cheating on her.

Those who knew Fridah say she often visited her boyfriend in Nairobi, in an attempt to salvage what remained of their long-distance relationship. But things took a tragic turn when the boyfriend, a student at Cooperative University, remained defiant. He had moved on.

That her lover was abandoning her for someone else was devastating for Fridah. She committed suicide, saying that, without the man of her dreams, life was not worth living anymore.

SUICIDE

Cases of suicide among university students have risen in the recent years in the country.

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In 2018 alone, at least 12 university students committed suicide for various reasons. More than half of these suicides resulted from love-related disputes.

Whereas most college romantic relationships are anchored on the thrill of the moment, a considerable number of them end in heartbreaks that could turn suicidal. 

A number of students who have been in such relationships told the Nation that they have been left emotionally, socially or financially deprived.

Others reported posting poor grades in academics for failure to cope with the demands of such relationships. 

DEPRESSION

But why would a student commit suicide? And do local universities and colleges have support infrastructure for those battling love-related depression?

University students discuss what it means to be in love and how they deal with the trauma of broken relationships.

Patrah Murangi

Patrah Murangi, a Second Year student of spatial planning at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University. PHOTO | COURTESY

Patrah Murangi, a second year student of spatial planning at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University argues that most college relationships are anchored on infatuation rather than true love.

Murangi, 20, notes that when a couple lives, attends lectures and does everything together, a breakup is most likely to be catastrophic.

“The more time you spend with each other, the more you become part of each other. So when the bond is suddenly broken, it becomes harder to face life alone,” Murangi says.

HAPPINESS

“You don’t have a life without the partner. What else do I have to live for when my happiness and comfort are taken away from me?” she poses.

But is this enough reason to harm oneself?

“When I think about it, it does not make sense. It is psychopathic,” Murangi says.

In his view, Elvis Njuguna, says that lovelorn students take their own lives “because they gave away so much love, leaving none for themselves”.

“Some students commit so much time, money and emotions to their partners. They forget that it is just a circumstantial relationship after all. This leaves them helpless in case of a breakup,” says Njuguna. 

Another student Ronald Waswa says that the bigger the risk one takes, the harder the blow when the wheels come off the relationship.

EMOTIONS

“For a happier and stronger relationship, you must commit more money, more time and all your emotions. You also make sacrifices,” Waswa notes.

So after all this investment including time, attention, emotion, money and effort go to waste, it feels like a core part of you has been ripped out,” Waswa says.

St Paul’s University student Thuku Karanja says that unreciprocated love often makes one partner vulnerable to depression which   induces suicidal ideations.

Thuku Karanja

Thuku Karanja, a student at St-Paul's University. PHOTO | COURTESY

“Sacrificing for someone makes sense only when both partners are willing to give up their comfort and happiness for the sake of each other. When you invest all your Higher Education Loans Board money in your lover only for them to dump you, it causes unimaginable heartache,” he says.

LOVERS

Lack of a clear purpose for the relationship is also cited as a big challenge for majority of college lovers.

“Are you after a mere hook-up, convenience or looking for a serious relationship? Is it a rebound from another relationship?” poses Murangi.

Neema Mollel points out that disputes among couples stem from “not being on the same page” where one partner expects so much from the other while the other person is willing to offer only the bare minimum to the relationship.

Neema notes that female students unconsciously set themselves up for heartbreak by “having the future in mind” when they get into relationships.

“Women tend to fantasise about future husbands with their boyfriends. In most cases though, the man will only be thinking about the present moment. It shatters her when it finally dawns on her that their relationship has no future,” Neema says.

TOXIC

A relationship that one cannot live without is toxic, says Bryan Abucheri, but adds it is hard to be rational “once you get drunk with love”.

“I just can’t fathom being alone while my friends are happy in their relationships,” Abucheri says. “I would feel inadequate. I may want to be strong for myself, but the void is usually so intense, especially if you had completely invested in your partner,” he says.

Most university students are in arrangements of sexual, financial and emotional convenience which they misconstrue to be love, says Esther Omuhatia, an Actuarial Science graduate of Kisii University.

Esther Omuhatia,

Esther Omuhatia, a Kisii University of Actuarial Science graduate. PHOTO | COURTESY

“Seeking completion and happiness from our college lovers is the biggest mistakes that we make as students. After all, we are all in the same circumstances with similar challenges, anxieties and deficiencies,” Esther says, adding that when these expectations are not met, heartbreaks occur, leaving the victim vulnerable and suicidal.

CONFINED

Wahito Githaiga says that due to the confined settings in universities, relationships are usually a public affair.

“Half the school will likely know who you are dating. This is especially so if you are a notable figure in school. So when you part ways, everyone will be talking about it,” says Githaiga, 20, a fourth year economics student at Kenyatta University. 

He says the embarrassment of being dumped pushes the aggrieved party to the extremities.

Esther Githaiga

Esther Githaiga, a Fourth Year economics student at Kenyatta University. PHOTO | COURTESY

Irene Chepchumba says that the breakup is more upsetting if the couple had created an air of vibrancy around their relationship.

“If you had painted a picture of a perfect relationship, it’s hard to open up to anyone about what you are going through because no one will believe you,” she argues. “You end up facing your troubles alone because you think no one cares to listen.”

DECEPTION

Chepchumba says that deception characterises most romantic relationships on campus “because people around you assume that dating should be fun”. 

“Your friends often imagine you are having the best time of your life based on the photos you post on social media and how you and your partner behave in public. But beneath the veneer, you will be going though disputes and fights,” she says. 

Sandra Mwimali believes that the age factor plays a key role in how students handle relationships. 

Sandra Mwimali.

Sandra Mwimali. She studies statistics at Moi University. PHOTO | COURTESY

“Some students join university aged 17 or 18. For them, this is the first time they have freedom, a time to party and have fun. At this age, they are prone to exploitation from older students,” Sandra says.

Psychiatrist Dr Ngugi Gatere says: “Most of these youngsters are unprepared for the emotional turbulence that comes with relationships.”

“Suicidal thoughts occur because this is probably the first time one is being rejected,” Dr Gatere says.

HOPELESS

“A heartbroken student will be hopeless and even think that they won’t overcome the heartbreak,” he adds.

According to him, men naturally take things lightly while women invest emotionally in their relationships. But even so, research shows that more men than women commit suicide.

Four out of five students who commit suicide out of relationships gone wrong are boys.

“Men are likely to use more lethal methods to take their lives. More women than men attempt suicide, but most of them survive,” Dr Gatere explains. 

Helen Shikanda, a fourth year Bachelor of Communication and Journalism student at Moi University, however, says that no relationship should be a matter of life and death. She says that the fear of uncertainty and heartache often push victims of breakups to the limit.

Hellen Shikanda, a Bachelor of Communication

Hellen Shikanda, a Bachelor of Communication and Journalism student at Moi University. PHOTO | COURTESY

“People react differently to different scenarios. But I believe taking one’s own life is an obsession rather than love,” Shikanda says, adding that lack of help among students often leads to catastrophic breakups.

SUPPORT

She goes on: “I know I shouldn’t be too attached to someone until I can’t do without them. I also know my primary focus should be to work on improving myself. But this sense disappears once you get into a relationship. It’s a mystery.”

Shikanda says that some students are sometimes quick to judge others instead of finding out what their friend might be going through.

“When you have no one to turn, you are likely to nurse suicidal thoughts,” she notes.

Dr Gatere concurs, saying that one’s genes and availability of a support system influence how every person handles the trauma of a breakup.

According to the psychiatrist, the urge to commit suicide is a stage reaction which starts with shock before giving way to depression.

JOB LOSS

“Grief reaction comes from job loss, loss of a loved one and other occurrences that cause sorrow. Students who commit suicide usually exhibit a complicated grief reaction which is the worst form of reaction,” he says.

Students admit though that they are often advised to talk about issues troubling them to ease the pain. Granted, opening up might just be the perfect remedy to deal with love-related trauma, but just how well equipped are universities and colleges to handle such experiences among students?

In 2018, the Ministry of Education tasked deans of students in universities to find ways of addressing depression to avert suicide among students.

While most universities have reported significant progress in revamping guidance and counselling services, their students think otherwise. 

Steve Njuguna, a fourth year student of hospitality at Machakos University says that psychotherapy and emotional wellbeing of students are not well catered for in universities.

Steve Njuguna

Steve Njuguna, a Fourth Year student of hospitality at Machakos University. PHOTO COURTESY. 

“Guidance and counselling is one of the most dormant departments in my university. How can one psychiatrist handle thousands of students?” he wonders, noting that most local universities have not been quick to intervene even as the trend of depressed and suicidal students grows.

CONFIDENTIALITY

Even as cases of suicide continue to rise, most local universities are hesitant to share statistics of the situation in their schools fearing that this will impact negatively on their reputation.

“Universities must put emphasis in counselling their students. Most young people lack proper support systems back at home owing to the fast-paced life of modern times,” he says, noting that some parents and guardians are too sucked into their jobs to find time for their children.

Some universities may have put in place such avenues, but these are sometimes rarely utilised.

“The stigma associated with depression, mistrust and lack of confidentiality, therefore, pushes many students to suffer in silence,” Dr Gatere says.  

BLUNDERS

Provision of life skills such as relationship matters to students also ineffective in schools.

This leaves youngsters to venture out on their own and make costly relationship blunders in the process. 

Cheating, unrequited love and unmet expectations rank highly among reasons that trigger of breakup among students.

To avoid bitter breakups, some students admit to opt for ‘loose arrangements’ where there is minimal attachment and least emotions are invested.

Past incidents:

• In February 2018, Derrick Kiprop, 22, who was studying software engineering at Murang’a University of Technology took his life after a dispute with his lover.

• Kiprop was devastated after his girlfriend ended their three-month relationship abruptly.

• A 26-year-old student at Kenyatta University ended his life following a rocky relationship with his girlfriend.

• That same year, Kelvin Mugendi, 22, a computer science student at Chuka University killed himself after discovering that his girlfriend was cheating on him. 

• In 2017, Hellen Nyambura, a student at University of Kabianga hang herself in a case of a love triangle turned tragic.