According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Kenya ranks at position 114 out of 175 globally in suicide rates with 6.5 suicides per 100,000 people. Indeed, the world health agency identifies suicide as the second leading cause of death globally among the 15-29 years age group.
Closer home, a 2015 World Bank report ranked Kenya as the sixth most depressed nation in Africa with 1.9 million depression cases reported in that year.
Between 2015 and 2018, the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) recorded 1442 suicides in Kenya while crime statistics from the country’s National Police Service reveal that suicide is only second to murder in the homicide category.
Another 2020 Kenya Mental Health Taskforce report, laid bare how mental illness accounted for 13 percent of the entire disease burden in the country. Worryingly, the figures further indicate that men were four times more likely to commit suicide than women with many unreported cases of attempted suicide.
Over and above this, there is data indicating that more men go missing than women, that fewer men seek psychological therapies, that men consist of a majority of rough sleepers and more men end up in prison as opposed to their female counterparts.
It is, thus, in recognition of the gravity of this situation that many countries in the world have dedicated June as Men’s Mental Health Month in a bid to address this seemingly huge societal problem.
It is during this Men’s Mental Health Month when the world shines a spotlight on underlying issues that have led to fewer men speaking about mental health despite it being a problem while paying attention to factors such as culture and social practices that gag these conversations.
It is also during this period that we should go ahead and discuss what the societal term asking the male gender to “man-up” entails and some of its ramifications on the modern man as opposed to our elderly parents and grandparent’s generation.
To kick off this conversation it is widely accepted in most societies that it is the man’s responsibility to be the provider but also as strong, in control, and dominant. These among other “masculine traits” and stereotypes have led to fewer men seeking help when faced with stress and depression thereafter. When men speak about their problems, there is also a tendency to view them as weak making them vulnerable to other coping mechanisms such as alcohol and drugs.
To be fair there is also little information to the society on the symptoms to look out for in order to understand mental sickness of any kind such as aggression, irritability and sudden anger, abuse of alcohol, restlessness, lack of emotions, risk-taking, and overall risk of control of situations facing them.
In some cases, victims are known to indulge themselves in societal norms such as work which may pass undetected.
Among the most vulnerable include extreme poverty, discrimination, lack of opportunities, unemployment, marital issues, financial and legal problems, handicap, history of mental illness, and those who have experienced combat.
In all these cases, there is a remedy that includes treatment such as therapy and medication which when provided, and promptly, can lead to full recovery.
The availability of facilities and professionals providing this kind of treatment and especially in rural areas remains a growing concern.
June, therefore, provides an opportunity to man up and discuss this important social issue with organizations such as Aga Khan’s Brain and Mind Institute leading the conversation. The institute has done this through the creation of platforms that advocate the practice of men opening up, provide professional advice, continuous research, and workable solutions that can help create a better society.
This month also provides an opportunity for everyone to continue advocating the repeal of section 226 of the Penal Code (Chapter 63, Laws of Kenya) which criminalizes suicide as well as fast-tracking of the Mental Health Amendment Law.
Kamau Mbote is a communications expert with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and a minor in psychology and sociology from the United States International University Africa.