A few days ago, our readers were treated to two unrelated tragic incidents on the same page in what is increasingly becoming common: Killings of family members by their loved ones. We use ‘loved ones’ advisedly because in normal circumstances, ‘love’ and ‘homicide’ should not go together.
In the first case, a former Member of County Assembly (MCA) shot his wife dead before turning the gun on himself. And, in the second, a woman reportedly axed and stabbed her gardener husband to death, suffocated their two children and then hanged herself. The man’s friends said he had confessed to frequent battery by his wife. There will be no shortage of theories on why one would decide to eliminate family, innocent children included. One thing is clear though: The worrying frequency of such cases.
There is need to come up with ways of stemming escalating cases of homicide within families, more so because the killings no longer conform to the old pattern where women were innocent victims of male aggression. While dead men — and women — tell no tales, hence we will never know the exact reasons behind the reported killings in which the supposed aggressors ended up taking their lives, the mental condition of the killers is suspect. This explains why once they had eliminated their kin, they could not face themselves and ended up taking own lives.
Traditionally, women dissipated their stress by sharing their problems with fellow women at water wells, while gathering firewood or at market places, and in what men scornfully refer to as gossip. Men, on the other hand, tend to bottle up their frustrations to destructive levels. The latter scenario would explain the former MCA’s case.
Escalating family killings have been blamed on socio-economic stresses that make it impossible for family heads to meet their obligations. A sense of helplessness and hopelessness sets in, impairing their capacity to cope, and literally pushing them to the edge. While counselling and clinical psychologists are vital in helping stressed-up couples, their numbers are way too few.
The law of supply and demand locks out many families from counselling services needed to cope with harsh economic times. And yet a civilised state cannot turn a blind eye on a growing segment of its population. The Division of Mental Health of the Ministry of Health must urgently put structures in place to make universal mental health services a reality.
This situation calls for a crash programme to train counselling and clinical psychologists to help families manage stress and stem a looming epidemic of homicide and suicides. The urgency cannot be understated given that most victims and perpetrators are at their prime with young children that need their parents alive.