Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death globally and comes with stigma thus hindering the recovery journey of most victims.
24 year old Emmah Mwangi recounts losing her father at the age of 14 and could barely handle the pain leading to depression and later having suicidal thoughts.
According to Emmah, growing up she never heard of mental health and therefore it took some time before discovering that she had a mental illness.
“Growing up in Korogocho I never heard anyone talk about mental health. My dad was shot and his death was too painful, I withdrew myself from people close to me including my mother but I didn’t know I had a mental health illness,” she said
“I later got into social media and that is where I learnt how to cut myself on the wrists, I stopped eating at all and I withdrew myself from people,” she added
Emmah says whenever she felt sad or upset she could cut herself using a blade in the hope that she could feel better.
However, the situation became worse when she started contemplating suicide which she attempted four times and someone close to her advised that she should seek the services of a psychiatrist.
“Opening up to a Psychiatrist was hard for me and when I got to the Kenyatta National Hospital doctors recommended that I be admitted at the Mathari Mental facility but I was in denial. I remember negotiating with the doctors to evade admission because I believed Mathari is a place for mad people and I was not mad,” she narrated
Emmah acknowledges seeking help is important and the earlier one starts therapy the better adding that she had to accept her condition so as to start her journey towards recovery.
“Healing has to start with you and especially if you are a young, people will not understand why you have a mental illness because they assume you have no responsibilities,” Emmah said as she talked about how stigma affected her recovery
“Stigma comes from even your own family and the community because they do not understand what you are going through, most people actually think you are an attention seeker. I used to wear long-sleeved shirts to hide my cuts but I’ve come to terms with myself, I no longer hide,” she said
Having started therapy sessions in 2017, Emmah says she is now at a better place in her recovery journey noting that self-awareness is key in overcoming a mental illness especially in the era of social media which has mounted a lot of peer pressure among the youth.
“I would advise young people to strike a balance between social media and real life and this means they have to identify what could be their triggers. Follow people who pour onto you and not people who take from you,” she stated
Despite overcoming a mental illness Emmah says seeking employment has been major challenge as most employers shy away from employing people who have suffered from mental disorders.
“Unemployment is a major problem for young people and because of being idle many turn into drug and substance abuse,” she said
As the world marks the World Mental Health Day this Sunday, Emmah hopes much more will be done to create awareness on mental health issues by making the required services such as therapy and medication accessible to all.
Majority of suicide cases among the youth in Kenya are related to mental disorders, including depression, anxiety, drug and substance abuse, lack of empowerment, broken social relationships and not being able to deal with adversities in life.
According to the Ministry of Health, 4 people die by suicide each day and the deaths tend to occur in low and middle income countries with majority of the victims being adolescents and youth aged 15-29.
The Kenyan law criminalizes suicide, however, the report by the Task-force on Mental Health recommended decriminalization of suicide and urged the government to invest more into mental health programs.
Dr. Catherine Mutisya, Senior Psychiatrist at the Ministry of Health says criminalization of suicide creates a considerable hurdle to provide relief to people affected by depression.
“There is a lot of stigma surrounding suicide especially for victims who survive such an attempt. We have been appealing for the Kenyan law to decriminalize the law and not legalize it, this means we look for better ways of dealing with such people rather than taking them to jail.”