Nairobi, 10th September, 2020 For Immediate Release
The World Suicide Prevention Day: “Working Together To Prevent Suicide
During today’s commemoration of World Suicide Prevention Day, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights joins all Kenyans in calling for more robust action against a silent pandemic that claims the lives of close to a million people globally each year.
The World Health Organization estimates that 78% of global suicides occur in low and middle income countries. Furthermore, it is also the second leading cause of death among 15-29 years old globally.
In Kenya, 1,442 persons were reported to have committed the crime of attempted suicide between 2015 and 2018. The Kenya National Police Service annual crime reports reveal the figures for the crime of attempted suicide is higher coming second to murder in the homicide category. According to the 2020 KNBS Economic Survey, 196 cases were reported last year. The figures also reveal that the number is four times higher for men compared to women. These figures provide a conservative picture on the magnitude of suicide since only a fraction of cases are reported while an even bigger number contemplate suicide.
Bearing in mind the high prevalence rate of suicide, authorities must deliberately address its root cause which is largely as a result of mental ill health. Kenya’s Mental Health Taskforce Report revealed that mental illness accounts for 13% of the entire disease burden in Kenya. Suicide is the last resort and path of escape for individuals with unaddressed mental health needs, given the significant barriers that exist including stigma and limited access to mental health services in communities.
Research has shown that structural determinants of mental ill health such as extreme poverty, lack of access to empowerment opportunities and discrimination increase the likelihood of individuals committing suicide. Unfortunately, suicide prevention measures in Kenya have often failed to address these root causes and instead incorporated fewer effective approaches including punitive measures. Section 226 of the Penal Code, for instance, criminalizes attempted suicide, causing re-victimization of already vulnerable victims and placing those who are already socially and economically disadvantaged at even greater disadvantage. Thus, by working to prevent suicide, the country will be edging closer to realising Vision 2030 and sustainable development goals. Under the SDGs platform, Kenya has undertaken to reduce premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment, and promoting mental health and wellbeing by the year 2030.
The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights therefore joins in calling upon the legislature to decriminalise attempted suicide through the repeal of section 226 of the Penal Code (Chapter 63, Laws of Kenya) and reiterates its previous calls for the fast-tracking of the Mental Health Amendment law. The Commission calls upon the government to adopt preventive holistic approach to addressing suicide, one that incorporates rights-based measures in addition to modern public health approaches. This will be achieved by addressing poverty, empowering disadvantaged sectors of society and tackling discrimination particularly for the most vulnerable groups which makes them high risk including but not limited to intersex children and adults, drug users and extremely poor households. In so doing, suicide rates will significantly reduce. Improving our healthcare facilities at the county level to detect early and address mental health disorders is key.
Besides the government, every Kenyan has a role to play in preventing suicide. The centrality of community support cannot be overemphasized. Families, religious leaders, village leaders and schools all have a role to play in offering a nurturing environment conducive to prevent suicide attempts as well as appropriately responding to high-risk groups in the community; early detection and offering psychosocial interventions. These coupled with public sensitisation will help de-stigmatise suicide. The media also have an important role to play through responsible and sensitive media portrayals.
During this year World Suicide Prevention Day commemoration themed “Working together to prevent suicide”, the Commission calls everyone to action to reflect on the importance of human rights and the protection of the fundamental freedoms for all. Noting the sacred nature of life of every human being, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights underscores and reiterates the primacy of the respect for and protection of human rights in creating a just and more liveable country where fewer people resort to suicide as an escape from hardships.
Every single life counts! Each life means the world!
Dr. Bernard Mogesa, PhD, CPM
Chief Executive Officer/ Secretary to The Commission