Suicide and COVID-19

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Suicide and COVID-19

“Three men among them village elder commit suicide in Homa Bay county,” reads citizen digital on July 26, 2021. In May, a 19-year-old boy committed suicide in Rachuonyo North, Kawadhgone Sub location, reasons unknown. Four days earlier, a grade four pupil had committed suicide at his parents’ home, (Kenya News Agency, 21 May 2021). Again on 31st May 2021, KNA reported that a class seven pupil committed suicide in Ramba village, Mfangano location, Suba North, Homa Bay by hanging himself with a trouser in his room because he was denied the opportunity to watch a EUFA match. These heart-breaking cases of suicide in Homa County between May to July 2021 are a reflection of increased cases of suicide in Western Kenya.

Increased cases of suicide in Kenya was confirmed by The Guardian, 2021 report. Kenya had more than 500 suicide cases in three months. This was more than the cases reported for the entire 2020 period. According to the police reports in Anadolu Agency, 2021, Nyanza reported the third-highest cases of suicide in 2021 at 67 It is important to note that many cases go unreported.

During this Covid-19 pandemic, reported cases are pointers of upward trajectory, a clear indication of socio-economic effects of this mental health problem. It has resulted in a suicide surge. The Covid-19, suicide connection is aptly reflected by Wafula’s (not real name) experience;

“It reached beyond my limits. I couldn’t cope, my body died long ago, my brain ceased, and everything was bleak. Covid-19 drove me to want to commit suicide; my hotel business was closed during the first lockdown in mid-2020. I couldn’t restart it due to the heavy investment losses that I faced through the loans. Suicide was the last resort. However, God didn’t want me to leave my young family, I was saved. But to make it worse, I am to face trials on attempting suicide.”

According to WHO, 78% of suicide cases globally, occur in low- and middle-income countries such as Kenya. In many instances as Wafula highlights, people with unaddressed mental health cases see suicide as the best alternative. The most common and prevalent causes of suicide in Kenya are extreme poverty as a result of economic hardship, inadequate opportunities, lack of access to life’s basic necessities, discrimination, mental distress amongst others. According to Vida, a peer youth counselor, and psychologist, people are driven into suicide due to lost hope, suffering, inability to cope up with life’s demands,  shame, fear of rejection, failures, and mental distress.

Suicide Prevention

The best form of treatment is prevention. There are numerous efforts and strategies to prevent increasing suicide cases. WHO Mental Health Gap Action Program (mhGAP) of 2008 is such a universal measure aiming to heighten services for MNS disorders such as suicide, dementia, and others (WHO, 2008). Vida adds that detection of early warning signs, counseling, and availing opportunities such as empowerment are important in the prevention of suicide cases.

According to Dr. Tom Omollo retired psychologist in the city,

Communal support in the form of families, religion, institutions, administration, police, and the health sector plays a key role in suicide prevention.  He reiterated that when a person contemplating suicide is showered and recognized by love and care, he or she feels like part of that society, respected and self-esteem boosted. The feeling of hope and belief is inculcated. The sense to live, fight on prevails.

Another form of suicide prevention is de-stigmatization.  TUK, 2019 emphasizes that stigma is a big barrier to suicide prevention and those stigmatized feel ashamed to seek help. Hence, there is a dire need to ensure that such victims face minimal or no stigma at all.

Suicide prevention requires holistic approaches such as what the Kenya National Commission of Human Rights, 2010, described as decriminalizing suicide. This can be done by repealing section 226 of the panel code (Chapt 63 of Kenya Constitution. People like Wafula who overcame the urge of suicide can focus on reviving their hope and not worry about the legal ramifications of attempted suicide.

Unfortunately today we are witnessing caregivers attempting to commit suicide due to tough economic times and the inability to consistently provide for their families. Thus, it is crucial to redress poverty through economic empowerment. Additionally, constant talks, counselling, acknowledging suicide, keeping those attempting suicide safe, and helping them stay, and being connected in networks are ways of preventing suicide and reducing such cases. Those who show signs of suicide, and severe distress, in general, need to enhance coping and problem-solving skills mechanisms to manage challenges.  

Way forward

With increasing tough times, more so those catalyzed by covid-19, more and more cases of suicide are reported. There is an urgent need for stakeholders to enhance stringent and consistent early detection and prevention strategies.  Suicide is a process, thus initiatives should be put in place for early identification, detection, prevention, counseling, and treatment. Blink International is actively working towards using technology to detect these early suicide cases especially in marginalized communities where there is little to no access to mental health services.

Article written by Nickson Magak and edited by Devon Andrews

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