Suicide: Is it a crime or an unanswered cry for help?

By Jean Wanjema

The discussion around mental health is slowly becoming louder, and efforts to reduce stigma are well underway. Unfortunately, the number of suicide cases being reported is constantly on the rise, with the latest being of a 9-year-old boy who died by suicide in Nyandarua County. Data on suicide rates in Kenya is hard to come by due to underreporting; however, WHO estimated that in 2019, the rate was 11 in 100,000, roughly translating to 4 suicides per day. September 10th marked world suicide prevention day, with the theme being Creating Hope Through Action.

In Kenya, Section 226 of the Penal Code deems suicide a criminal act, stating that “any person who attempts to kill himself is guilty of a misdemeanour. It is punishable by up to two years in prison and/or a fine.”

So, what is being done locally to combat the rapidly growing pandemic? In 2021, through the Mental Health Task Force, the Ministry of Health launched the Suicide Prevention Strategy 2021-2026, which aims to attain a 10% reduction in suicide mortality by 2026. They hope to do this through amendments to the law and implementing a data system on suicide risk surveillance. The push to decriminalise suicide is growing, with multiple stakeholders joining in the fight with a motivation to switch the emphasis to prevention and implementation of effective interventions that will, in turn, reduce the mortality rate.

On the flip side, suicide is a medical emergency. Many healthcare providers may not know how to approach such a patient, and numerous tools have been developed to help navigate such a scenario.

Download our Casualty App today to access hotline numbers for suicide prevention and emergency care guidelines for patients at risk of suicide (for healthcare providers).

Emergency Medicine Kenya Foundation

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