I grew up in a regular middle-class estate within Nairobi and attended a primary school that was a walking distance from home. Some of my neighbors attended the same school and over the years we formed a clique of about six girls that walked home together.
Atis was one of the girls in the group and although she was in class five, she always waited for those of us in class four so that we could walk home together. During the school holidays we would still play within the estate together. On this particular December holiday, Atis stopped coming out to play abruptly. She could peep through the upstairs window when we knocked at her gate and she would say “leo nimefungiwa” meaning she was grounded by her parents. She seamed to be in pajamas and dull all day. Her brother told us she wasn’t really grounded and she would lock herself up in her bedroom watching movies and refuse to talk to anyone. Her parents confirmed that she was not unwell and had been to hospital where she was given a clean bill of health. So we all just brushed it away as a group of friends and concluded she had enough movies to watch; after all the rest of us had only one TV in the living room that was locked up until 5pm when our parents came home.
After about 3 weeks, news reached us that Atis had passed away. On eves dropping at some adult conversation we heard someone say that she had popped more than 30 malariaquin tabs. Yes it was in the 90s and malariquin was still in use as an anti-malarial drug that one could access in any shop. As kids all this sounded strange. We could only hypothesize that it was because her parents fought so much, or maybe she had been told to repeat class 5 in the new year, or probably she found out she was adopted because we always wondered why she was the only light skinned person in her family. Childish theories they may have been………but either way the last memory I have of Atis is a girl dressed in dusty school uniform with a back-to-school hairstyle (cornrows to the back) trying to share an unripe mango with red-hot chili mixed with salt at a kiosk on the way from school. None of us were allowed to ask questions, attend the funeral service or even visit their house after that. It all ended just like that.
So what would make an eleven-year-old girl decide to take her life? ………………..
The Facts: –
In the last few weeks, two teenage suicide cases have been reported within Nairobi by mainstream media. Both were male one being an eighteen year old that shot himself with a gun within their home and the other a sixteen year old who hang himself and was suspected to be playing the infamous Blue whale game that has now been banned in Kenya by our government. Surveys show that males engage in more lethal methods (like the two cited by our teens) whereas females opt for methods like ingesting a drug overdose or toxic substance. Suicide (resulting in death) is generally more common among males than females, though females have more attempts.
Risk factors for suicide among teenagers include:
- Previous suicidal attempts or threats
- Loss of a loved one or person of interest via Suicide
- Firearms/ dangerous weapons within reach
- Underlying mental health disorders (depression, anxiety, alcohol use)
- Academic pressure
- Relationship difficulties (parental and peers)
- Sexual identity disorders (with bullying and harassment)
What to look out for: –
Changes in your child in terms of personality, eating patterns, sleeping patterns, isolation, increased substance abuse especially alcohol and loss of interest in hobbies or things they would previously enjoy.
What to Do: –
1.Be involved in your teenager’s life and stay connected emotionally and psychologically.
2.Address any features of depression
3.Keep away all dangerous objects like firearms
4.Take your child or adolescent to an appropriate mental healthcare specialist for proper assessment and psychological counseling if you suspect or detect any of these signs. It is better to over react than to loose a person all together.
Talking about suicide does NOT increase ones chances of committing/or give them ideas; but may instead save a life.