#WorldSuicidePreventionDay: The case of student suicides in Kenya

World Suicide Prevention Day

As the world marks the World Suicide Prevention Day on 10th September 2019, we take a retrospective look at suicide cases among college and university students in the country.

According to a 2017 World Health Organization (WHO) report, suicide cases have been on the rise in Kenya. The report indicates that the number of suicides reported in Kenya rose by 58% between 2008 and 2017 to reach 421.

Prevalence of Suicide Cases in Kenya

There has been a worrying statistic of students committing suicide within Kenyan institutions of higher learning. Universities have been reluctant in sharing statistics however there have been slight over twenty documented cases of students who have committed suicide.

In 2015, a journal article on suicide among university students in Kenya pegged the prevalence of suicidal behaviour and physical fighting at 16.4%.

According to a 2015 study among teenagers aged 13 to 17 years, this pre-university population has the highest prevalence of suicidal thoughts and planning rates among developing countries.

Reasons for High Suicide Prevalence

Among the reasons for the high suicide prevalence include poverty, political tensions, violence, human rights violations, adolescent pregnancies and vulnerability to sexual and reproductive ill-health, which can have direct or indirect effects on the psycho-social well-being of adolescents.

Nearly 20 university students across Kenya committed suicide between 2014 and 2018, according to a 2018 local news report.

Proposed Mitigation Measures

Experts warn that if not mitigated, the prevalence of suicidal behavior among students is likely to become a major challenge to higher education institutions. They propose the use of culturally-appropriate and locally-tailored interventions to solve the menace.

There is need for colleges and universities in Kenya to implement institution-based solutions to the prevention of suicides among students.

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Particularly there is a need to strengthen campus-based mental health care services and promote access to these services. This might entail addressing issues such as stigma and attitudes to help-seeking.

There is need to build campus communities in which students can find connection and belonging, feel secure, imagine a future for themselves, and access support when they need it.

Suicide can be prevented – we have the knowledge but now we need political will and the commitment of university authorities to address this issue.

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Students also need to be their sisters’ keepers. Check on your friends, classmates and roommates from time to time. Be genuinely concerned with what your friends are undergoing and offer a helping hand. Particularly, reach out to relevant authorities if you feel that your friend is undergoing a rough patch and could use some counseling. Let us fight this together.

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