Monday, January 13, 2014

Suicide a leading cause of death among youth

This post was delayed due to multiple mishaps in the office that would merit full posts in their own right! My apologies, though, for this late posting.

Enjoy your read!

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 05 January 2014

Last week, an acquaintance of mine on social media committed suicide. I had never met him, but he would occasionally comment on my posts and carry on very “normal” online conversations. By all appearances he was a successful professional. He had been married for a couple of years and, at the time of his death, he had a one-and-a-half-year-old son. All this information could be gleaned from his Facebook profile.

I learned of his death one morning when I noticed many messages mentioning his name and following this up with the initials RIP. One of his friends posted: “Why did you have to do this? Was there no other way?” My curiosity was aroused and, on scrolling through his page, I came upon a post in which a close friend of his indicated that he had committed suicide.

That same week, a colleague called me to discuss a mutual patient. Some time in the past he had referred the young man to me for treatment of his mental illness with frequent suicide attempts. We had achieved a measure of success in his management but, after some time, he stopped coming for follow-up.

My colleague was calling to inform me that the young man had also committed suicide. He had seemed well in recent months, and was even enrolled in university pursuing a prestigious course. One day he simply did not leave his room, and when his colleagues went to check on him, they had to break down the door to get in. They found him lying lifeless in bed, having taken a lethal concoction.

I have gone to great lengths to modify the identifying information in these stories in order to protect the privacy of the grieving families, but they do represent an epidemic that is happening all around us. Suicide is emerging as a leading cause of death among young Kenyans in their most productive years, rivalling well-known killers such as road crashes, Aids and other chronic diseases.

Traditionally, suicide was frowned upon in most societies, and some had even developed very elaborate funeral rituals for those that died by suicide. In some communities in western Kenya, for instance, a person who died by suicide would be buried by strangers at night without any honours. There would be no proper mourning or memorial ceremonies and his name would be erased from the community narrative. No child would be named after him. Similar rituals exist in most communities.

The upshot of this is to make suicide appear as a personal choice, a manifestation of weakness or evil on the part of the attempter, and a reason for punishment rather than assistance. The result is that those that unsuccessfully attempt suicide are ridiculed and ostracised, often being urged to find other ways of dealing with their problems.

The unfortunate truth is that suicide is often a manifestation of serious psychological or social problems, and the attempter has reached a determination that these problems are so intractable that the only solution lies in killing themselves. Such a person needs help rather than condemnation.

I believe it is time the government declares suicide a national disaster and unveils measures to address this growing problem. 

Dr Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and senior lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Say something about this post!