Residents of Kayole Estate walk past a truck that was burnt by irate youth with claims that it was transporting illicit brew in Nairobi, Kenya on July 3, 2015. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta this week revoked the licences of bars and other outlets selling second generation brews in Central region and gave Members of Parliament from Central region of Kenya four days to rid the region of illicit brews..The brew has seen several people die after taking it. (Xinhua/John Okoyo)
Residents of Kayole Estate walk past a truck that was burnt by irate youth with claims that it was transporting illicit brew in Nairobi, Kenya on July 3, 2015. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta this week revoked the licences of bars and other outlets selling second generation brews in Central region and gave Members of Parliament from Central region of Kenya four days to rid the region of illicit brews..The brew has seen several people die after taking it. (Xinhua/John Okoyo)

She stares into space every few minutes, her father has to keep tapping her to bring her back to reality.

A plate of food in front of her is barely eaten and has to be warmed for the second time – it has been there for the last one and a half hours.

“She has depression, the medication she has been on for the last three weeks has taken away her appetite. Sometimes it gets worse, she refuses to eat completely. The depression has robbed her of her joy, she’s no longer the sweet girl she used to be,” says Jackson Kinyanjui, whose 19-year-old daughter was diagnosed with depression at the beginning of this year.

Kinyanjui says that Joy Karimi, his second born daughter, started getting withdrawn towards the end of last year.

He thought it was just a phase that would pass but he was wrong. Karimi didn’t sit her A-level examinations as the depression had already started taking a toll on her.

“Her teacher called me one day when she refused to wake up and spent the whole day in bed. Her friends also found a suicide note in one of her books. The doctor suspects academic pressure could have triggered it since she was in her final year in senior school,” says Kinyanjui.

The same time Kinyanjui was called to take Karimi for a medical checkup, a student in a different school committed suicide. By the end of 2018, over 12 students in Kenya had committed suicide – these were the reported cases in the media, the numbers could have been higher.

Some of the causes of suicides among teenagers enrolled in high schools and universities have been identified as depression, mental illness, relationships gone sour and family rows.

According to Chitayi Murabula, a consultant psychiatrist and mental health advocate based in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, mental disorders are rising across the world. By 2020, he cautioned, depression is projected to take second place to heart disease among diseases causing disability worldwide.

The factors that may be contributing to increased mental illnesses include the change in the family model where people have fewer connections hence less social support.

“An increase in social challenges such as poverty, unemployment and the increased use of alcohol and drugs are important factors. It is further suspected that social media may be a factor contributing to increase in mental illness especially among the youth though more studies are needed to reach a conclusion. In Kenya, the new phenomenon of gambling will contribute to an increase in the burden of mental disorders if people are not educated on the dangers of the habit,” says Murabula.

A World Health Organization (WHO) report released in 2017 indicates that someone dies every 40 seconds globally due to suicide, and that most victims are youths aged between 15 years and 19 years.

The report notes that suicide is the second-leading cause of death among the youth. It also showed that approximately more than 300 million people are affected by depression globally, and the condition is linked to the suicides of close to 800,000 people each year.

Many more attempt suicide. According to Murabula, there are over 150 different types of mental illnesses and each has its own unique signs and symptoms.

The mental health expert says that parents and teachers should always seek professional psychiatric opinion whenever they notice a sudden change in behavior in children.

A sudden drop in academic performance is also reason enough to seek help before it’s too late.

Even though the country hasn’t made a lot of progress in documenting mental health cases, Kenya has lower suicide rates compared to Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi, according to WHO.

According to data from World Population Review, in 2017, Kenya was number 114 out of 175 countries with a suicide rate of 6.5 per 100,000. The data further showed a 58 percent increase in suicide rates between 2008 and 2017.

The year 2017 recorded the highest cases of suicide reported, 421, while 2010 recorded the least, 75. The years of 2014, 2015 and 2016 recorded 301, 221 and 302 cases respectively.

Kenya National Bureau of Statistics in its 2018 economic survey revealed that more men commit suicide than women. The major cause, the study found out, is depression, in which the country is ranked sixth in Africa. Enditem

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