By Sharon Atieno

Two years ago, Miriam Gema, lost her 29-year old son to suicide. His body was found hanging on a tree in Kiambu County.

The previous night before he died, Gerald Mwangi had sent his mother a goodbye message. The mother baffled, sent him a message asking him where he was going. She tried calling him but to no avail.

“I think my time on this world is over, I have been through enough but I am done,” Mwangi’s Facebook post read, as he went on to invite his friends for his burial. This was before actualizing his intentions.

His mother describes him as a happy and open person and is still puzzled at what drove her son to commit such an act.

Mwangi’s case is not an isolated one. In 2019, the body of a 28-year old woman was found dangling from a rope tied to the roof of her parents’ granary in Meru County.

Millicent Kithinji, a mother of one, had succumbed to suicide due to frustrations. Her baby’s father who had promised to marry her allegedly ditched her for another woman. Besides that, she had cited unemployment and inability to fend for her daughter as the reasons for her action.

These two cases are among the close to 800,000 people who die globally each year due to suicide-the second leading cause of death for age 15-29 years.

A World Health Organization (WHO) report shows a 58% increase in suicide reporting in Kenya between 2008 and 2017 with about 317 suicide cases every year.

Kenya ranks 114 among 175 countries with the highest suicide rates in the world, according to the World Population Review.

Speaking during the commemoration of the World Suicide Prevention Day 2020, whose theme is working together to prevent suicide, Dr. Rashid Aman, Health Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) noted that there was an increase in suicide cases in the country over the last several years.

“The increased reported cases of suicide in Kenya shows a dire need for measures to prevent suicide,” Dr. Aman noted.

He added that there was need for a public health approach to handle cases of psychosocial and mental health consequences of COVID-19 as some people might be affected more than others.

Dr. Aman remarked that telecounselling and telepsychiatry services were key interventions to effectively address the growing need for those who are infected and affected by COVID-19 as well as the general public

“During this period of COVID-19 pandemic where we are encouraging social and physical distancing the element of tele-services becomes very critical,” he said.

The CAS revealed that the Ministry was considering setting up a telecounselling and telepsychiatry centre which will have a call centre. The call centre will have hotline numbers which Kenyans can call to receive counselling and guidance as well as directions and instructions on where to seek appropriate care for their conditions.

The 24/7 facility will deal with mental issues such as attempted suicide, substance use disorders, drug overdose crisis, psychosis crisis and gender based violence(gbv).

It will also offer psychosocial support including psychological first aid to persons in quarantine sites -currently, health workers- other frontline workers including morticians; persons with COVID-19 and their families; persons in recovery; survivors of gbv and the general public.

Moreover, those working at the centre will provide technical mental health care support to counties and health care workers whereas offering psychiatric consultation as well as public education on good mental health practices and coping strategies.

Besides, there will be linkage to ambulance services in response to mental health services.