The economic hardship exacerbated by the pandemic, as well as the stigma of suicide attempt survivors, are seen as possible reasons why the mental health crisis is reaching new heights.
Janet Kerubo Otwori, an orphaned student in Kenya, thought she would be accepted into Kereri Girls High School after an excellent exam. She marched to school in her uniform and slippers to register on August 2nd. But she was sent away because she had no school fees and her guardian couldn’t afford it.
Next, she drank pesticides to end her life. Fortunately, Otwori was saved after she was hospitalized. She made it to her dream school with the help of police officers who raised money for her education.
On the other hand, many others in the country are losing their lives at an alarming rate. The police department says the numbers have never been so high.
According to records from the Kenyan Ministry of Health, 483 people died of suicide in the three months leading up to June, a worrying increase in the annual average of about 317 cases. Police said they had “never before recorded such a high number of suicides and this is not only alarming but also requires remedial action”.
Dr. Chitayi Murabula, president of the Kenya Psychiatric Association (KPA), says the numbers likely do not reflect the true numbers of suicide-related deaths as attempting to commit suicide has become criminal in the country.
“This essentially means that suicide attempts are stigmatized at both the community and religious levels. The general atmosphere (around the issue) is shame, punishment and fear, ”said Dr. Murabula across from TRT World.
Under Section 236 of the Criminal Code, anyone attempting suicide is committing an administrative offense, and the general penalty is imprisonment for up to one year. A person who tries to commit suicide is likely to face both fines and jail time – a major obstacle that prevents people with suicidal thoughts from seeking outside help.
KPA under the direction of Dr. Marabula is now working with the Kenyan National Human Rights Commission on a petition to the Kenyan Supreme Court to end the criminalization of suicide. They are asking the court to declare the section of the criminal code unconstitutional as it violates people’s right to access health care in Kenya.
“As a result, the numbers are generally underreported in Kenya,” he said, adding that the increase was, however, a reflection of the problems in Kenya.
The reason for the rise, or the general problem of high suicide rates prior to the recent surge, is not clear. But both the Ministry of Health and Dr. Murabula say the Covid-19 pandemic has played a major role in mental health issues in the country.
During a crisis like Covid-19, some of those suffering from mental health problems or emotional stress could be triggered by the hardships the pandemic has created, the Ministry of Health said.
For Dr. Murabula should discuss the Covid-19 crisis in terms of people’s economic and mental health, as well as a health system crisis that is another long-term challenge in the population.
But given that, he says, it’s also a consequence of a lack of investment in mental health. The state’s budget for mental health has been below 0.5 percent for years.
“As everywhere in the world, mental disorders will account for about 13 percent of the burden of all disorders and illnesses, and the budget allocation should reflect that,” said Dr. Murabula.
“We weren’t invested before COVID-19. We have an unmet need of up to 90%, which means that if 10 people have mental disorders, only one is likely to get the health services they need, ”he added.
The World Population Review ranked Kenya 114th out of 175 countries with one of the highest suicide rates before the pike. This means that Kenya’s suicide rate was at least 6.5 suicides per 1,000,000 people.
The Ministry of Health is in the process of developing a national strategy and program for suicide prevention in line with World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines by 2026. A free hotline for suicide prevention and psychological support is one of the program steps.
In May, WHO launched a mental health investment kickstarter, which was attended by over 100 experts to discuss solutions and the challenges the country is facing in addressing the mental health crisis. The investment case was financed by the Russian Federation.
WHO previously welcomed the country’s interest in policy reforms to improve mental health.
“Instead of punishing people with mental health problems, they should be treated by expanding mental health services,” he said.
Source: TRT World