This question can be retorted with the proverbial answer cum question, why not? Why not disentangle themselves from the mental burdens of their society? Why not find an infinite silence to the voices in their heads? It might seem like I’m supporting the rising number of suicide cases in our society but I’m only shading and will be shading more light on the causes of suicide in Kenya and the measures that have been taken to nip the crisis at its bud.

Less than a week ago, a teenage schoolgirl committed suicide due to period shaming by her teacher. This led to an uproar from both local and international organizations calling for the teacher to be apprehended and justice be served expeditiously. Did this deal with the underlying burden of teenage suicide cases on the rise? According to the WHO (World Health Organization), suicide is the leading cause of deaths with a high of 78% suicidal-related deaths occurring among middle and low income countries. Due to the societal and cultural stigma that is laid on mental health, there is no specific statistics on teen suicide but it’s clear that it’s an issue of global concern.

In April, this year, BBC aired a feature on the suicide cases in the Kenya, majorly affecting the central region of the country. In a heart-wrenching exposé, the public was given a view into the increasing number of suicide cases among men. This was supported by a WHO report indicating the number of suicide cases in Kenya rose by 58% between 2008 and 2017 to reach 421. Out of the 421 cases in 2017, 330 involved men compared to 91 women. On average, 317 people in Kenya commit suicide. The burden of cultural dogma and stringent gender roles has prompted many individuals who would have sought professional help, to believe that it’s wrong to talk about their problems.

As observed with the staggering numbers of suicide cases in our society, there is need to know what the causative factors leading to this crisis are. Suicide is associated with mental disorders such as, bipolar, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety disorders. Alcohol and substance abuse are also relating factors. In the African setting, there has been a blanket of stigma placed on the mentally challenged and their conditions. Viewed as the devil’s doing, they are moved from one spiritual leader to another in an effort to exorcise them of the “evil spirit”. Such practices have for a long time abated the need for professional assessment and support of the mental illnesses in our society and in turn, curbing the alarming suicidal cases. Depression, being chief among the mental conditions, has resulted in 1.9 million deaths in Kenya by 2015. This is a report compiled by the World Bank.

Depression is a cry for help. It’s masked in coffee dates and plush lifestyle. It’s hidden in that friend who is the life of the party, the one who is the binding cord in your group of friends. It’s well layered in that well-to-do director who is at the helm of the organization. Sometimes it’s projected in subtle statements and actions displayed in public but often swept under the carpet. In other instances, it’s a sharp and piercing cry for help. When you hear it, create and encourage open dialogue and a safe environment for communication without stigma and retribution. Among health professionals, it’s been advised to use talk therapy as the first line of action in mental conditions before prescribing medication. According to the WHO, improved surveillance and monitoring of suicide attempts and self-harm is key to suicide prevention and recommends the setting of a public health surveillance system. As the teenage population is increasingly affected, as a parent, it’s advised to listen carefully, keep communication lines open, ease pressure off children, correct them with love and respect and affirm them with words and actions. This will aid in creating a safe environment at home where they are free to express themselves.

It’s high time we changed the mental health conversation in Kenya. Collectively we can give a voice to the voiceless who are suffering under the pressing burden of depression and mental breakdown. Let’s start asking the question, what can we do to avert the crisis?