Befrienders Kenya, an organisation that offers free counselling services to those at risk of taking their own lives, receives at least 100 distress calls and 300 emails every month.
Majority of those that make this crisis contact are young people between teenage hood and the early 30s.
Hiram Chomba, a psychotherapist who specialises in suicidology and who is part of the team that formed the organisation in 2007, says this year alone their website has received 78,600 visits already.
This translates to an average of over 1,000 visits per day. Last year, the site recorded 219,809 visits.
“Most of those that reach out to us are young people. The recurring issue many cite is relational difficulties with their parents, and majority of them come from single-parent backgrounds.
“These young people have lots of self-esteem issues, which in turn lead to relational difficulty with peers and the opposite sex,” Chomba explains.
There is a rise in the number of students in high school seeking their services, sometimes without their parent’s knowledge, he adds.
Another common trigger of suicidal thoughts, citing those that contact their organisation, is financial difficulty. Though this is more common among the middle-aged.
The most common trigger of suicidal thoughts, however, is mental illness. “Most cases of suicidal ideation are attributed to mental illness, particularly depression, which accounts for about 70 per cent of the cases we come across. Thinking of, or planning suicide, is indicative of untreated or undiagnosed depression,” says Chomba, adding that the number of Kenyans committing suicide has increased.
Kenya does not have a national surveillance strategy to track suicides, neither does it have a national strategy for suicide prevention, which means that the numbers could be higher than reported.
Besides social-economic reasons, Chomba says, other reasons that may cause people to become suicidal are shared social and genetic vulnerabilities.
This means that some suicides run in families. “We have counselled individuals that have lost several relatives to suicide; the most extreme case I have come across is that of a woman whose three daughters committed suicide — there’s a genetic predisposition of suicide in some families, suicide can be familial,” he says.
Overall, there is a strong correlation between parental abuse, neglect and depression in adolescence, which can progress leading to suicidal ideation and attempted suicide.
“However, there is no one single reason that explains suicide because there’s an interaction of factors within and outside the person,” he says Mr Chomba.
To better prevent suicide, there is need to assess risks surrounding persons or areas which have reported suicides and assess demographics, for example, unemployment
The fact is that there are suicides that are situation-specific; some have genetic disposition, others are propelled by socioeconomic factors while a number are philosophical suicides. This is derived from absurdism.
The premise is that life is absurd and meaningless, therefore not worth living.
Anjeyo Ananda, 30, for instance, attempted suicide thrice. The first time was in 2017. He was 29 years old.
He had a job with an international company that paid well, but it was a demanding one, he says. “I would wake up at 4am every day to get to work by 5am,” he says.
But a demanding job is not the only burden that Anjeyo was carrying.
He had planned to have married and started a family by the time he was 28, but at 30 he had no girlfriend.
He had a daughter from a previous relationship. Around that time he met someone who he thought was “the one” and they began to live together.
“It turned out to be a mistake. The relationship had lots of emotional baggage that I wasn’t ready for. For instance, if I spoke to any of my female friends we would have a fight. I had pressure at work and pressure at home. I was tired; my body was shutting down. I was unwell,” he says.
But he kept it to himself. “Society expects men to soldier on whatever they are going through. We are taught to put on a tough front even when we’re dying inside. That is what I did. I bottled it up and pretended that all was well,” he says.
On March 6 2017, he broke down. He was tired of the constant pressure at work, his unhappy relationship and the mental turmoil.
In short, he was tired of life, and so he decided to end it. “I planned to jump into the path of a speeding motorcycle; there are many of those where I live in Mwiki (on the outskirts of Nairobi).
“If I died, my death would be reported as a hit and run, not suicide. I waited by the roadside for almost two hours, but curiously, not even one motorcycle passed by. I gave up and went back home.”
The following day, Anjeyo broke up with his girlfriend and resigned from his job. “I just could not take it anymore,” he says.
He was however confident that his savings and benefits were enough to tide him over a couple of months until he got a new job.
He did manage to get a job, but his new employer was unable to pay him. “By the time I resigned three months later, I hadn’t been paid a single cent.”
It is around this time that he attempted suicide for the second time.
“My savings had run out and I had no job yet I had rent and my daughter’s school fees to pay, but there seemed to be no way out. One day, I overdosed on pain medication that I took once in a while for a sports-related injury, sure that I would die in my sleep. When I woke up the following day I was very angry that my plan had not succeeded.”
The Christmas of December 2017 was the worst Anjeyo has ever had. “I had nothing. I could not afford rent and food. I had insomnia. I would go for days without sleep. And then what I dreaded happened — my landlord gave me an eviction notice. I was drowning and I could see no way out.”
On January 30, 2018, he attempted suicide for the third time.
He tried to jump off the balcony of the fifth floor of the building where he lived, only for him to fall backwards instead of forward.
“I totally broke down that day and decided to ask for help. Not from people I knew. I went on Twitter and unburdened myself. I requested for Sh26,800 to enable me pay my rent arrears. My burden felt lighter afterwards, and for the first time in many months, I slept.”
He had no idea what he expected when he went public, but he certainly did not expect the generosity he got from total strangers.
The money kept coming. And by the time it stopped he had over Sh200,000. Someone even offered to pay his daughter’s school fees for a year. “She’ll sit her KCPE exams this year,” he says.
Since he opened up, Anjeyo has never stopped talking. And it has done him a world of good.
“My turn around came after I forgave myself. I realised that I had been too hard on myself. I am a first born. A first born is like a deputy parent — there were lots of expectations from everyone around me — my parents, my siblings. Some expectations can be unrealistic,” he says.
“I want to tell my fellow men that it is okay to cry; that it is okay to reach out and seek help. Men need a band of brothers they can talk to about anything and everything.”
For a couple of months now, Anjeyo, a digital marketer, has been sharing his story and thoughts on depression and suicide on Twitter, anj_116_.
He also runs a podcast called Uncomfortable Conversations. The channel is two months old. “So far, six suicidal Kenyans have reached out to me – all men below 30 years,” he says.