Suicide: The deadly shadow stalking school children in Kenya

By Gatonye Gathura

Suicide, being mentioned alongside the recent tragic fire at Moi Girls in Nairobi, research shows is a huge problem among high school students in Kenya.

It does not help that the fire tragedy happened, when the Ministry of Health is running the; “Depression Let us Talk,” yearlong campaign launched during the World Health Day in April.

“We are taking the fight against depression, which is closely associated with suicide, everywhere including in schools,” the Cabinet Secretary Dr Cleopa Mailu had said during the launch.

In a delegated speech he had said adolescents were especially vulnerable to depression and attendant consequences including mental illness.

The campaign is informed by a World Health Organization study on suicidal behavior among 13-17 year-olds students in Kenya and 31 other poor countries.

The results appearing in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization published last year shows 15. 3 per cent of Kenya’s students aged 13-17 had harboured suicidal ideas in the previous year.

Girls were significantly more likely than boys to contemplate suicide, says the study. At the same time, the study says 8.3 of the girls compared to only 5.8 of boys actually had a plan on how to carry out their suicidal ideas.

Factors associated with suicidal thoughts among students in Kenya were categorized as bullying, physical attacks, loneliness and parental support in order of prevalence.

Datasets from the WHO-backed Global School-based Student Health Survey indicate that violence among adolescents in Kenya is highly widespread in schools.

The survey ranks Kenya among countries with the highest level of bullying. Those are the countries with the prevalence rates of between 43 per and 74 per cent among adolescents aged 13-17 years reporting being the target of bullying at least once in two months.

At the national level, bullying in schools in Kenya stands at 57 per cent for students who are bullied on one or more days in a month.

Closer home in Nairobi an earlier report by among others leading psychiatrist Prof David Ndetei, of the University of Nairobi confirmed more school girls than boys being depressed and also more likely to have had suicidal ideas.

In their study appearing in the African Journal of Psychiatry, Prof Ndetei and his team had sampled 1,276 students in 17 out of about 50 public secondary schools in Nairobi County.

They reported that almost every fourth students showed some level of depression. “The prevalence of clinically significant depressive symptoms was 26.4 per cent,” says the study.

There were more girls than boys with symptoms of depression as well as exhibiting suicidal behaviour. “Students in boarding schools had more clinically significant depressive symptoms compared to day students.”

In this study funded by the Nairobi based African Mental Health Foundation also found high levels of bullying in Nairobi schools. There was more bullying in boarding compared to day schools and in national compared to provincial institutions.

Significantly children with the laid back father or a rejecting mother were at a high risk of depression and or suicidal behaviour.

Because of the high rates of depression and suicidal behavior detected among the students, the researchers recommended for the urgent training of teachers on detecting and managing mental problems in schools.

“We are implementing the Kenya Mental Health Policy 2015-2030 which has provisions to address depression in schools,” CS Mailu had said while launching the Lets Talk campaign.

The policy proposes the posting of teachers specially trained in mental health issues in schools and integrating the subject in all learning institutions.

The ministry though, Dr Mailu had explained was facing a serious lack of resources including skilled professionals in mental health care.




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