When Nyandarua County hit the headlines over the high number of suicide cases among men, Miss Universe Kenya Wabaiya Kariuki knew where next she will take her mental health awareness to.
In collaboration with PDO Kenya, a mental health organisation operating in Nakuru County, they set out for Nyandarua for a three-day mental health awareness campaign in Mirangini-ini.
It is there that the 22-year-old met with the harsh reality that is left behind when a loved one commits suicide.
“When one commits suicide, relatives are faced with the most challenging and complicated experience. Suicide is like no other cause of death. It comes suddenly with shock, a lot of whys, guilt, shame, denial, anger, loneliness and thoughts of suicide are also an option,” says Ms Kariuki.
In the traditional African society, suicide is a dreaded topic that is talked of in hush tones. However, the wounds left behind by such an occurrence are always left to heal on their own.
With little or no social help from the community, most families are left to their own devices to accept the death of a loved one that has left behind more questions, pain and stigma.
“It is sad that there is very little knowledge that suicide is caused by mental illness and worse, when families do not understand how to handle such a death or where to turn to for help” she says.
There’s huge gap in mental health care especially in the rural Kenya where suicide is still linked to being possessed by demons and superstitions.
Moreover, suicide victims are given different burial celebrations as opposed to the normal way funerals are conducted in many Kenyan communities.
“People need to know that suicide can be prevented if they talked to someone which is very healthy for mental wellness. Shutting everyone out and keeping troubles to oneself can lead to dreaded decisions, especially among the men,” narrates Kariuki.
African men are raised with a mentality that a man wearing his heart on the collar is perceived as weak. It is this mindset that causes many young African men to fall into depression, alcoholism and eventually suicide.
“Men need to know that it is okay not to be okay,” notes Ms Kariuki.
Social media platforms are a point of concern as they act as triggers to suicidal individuals.
“When you come across a post of someone saying they want to commit suicide, please do not encourage them to. It is wrong and insensitive. That person is crying for help. If you cannot help them or reach out to them then keep quiet and scroll,” she says.
Depression has been linked to the highest number of suicides in the country among the youth. It is estimated that 421 in every 100,000 people are more likely to take their own lives.
For Ms Kariuki, mental wellness is a long-term commitment beyond the period of her crown.