Following the recent unfortunate fire that left 10 young girls dead and several others with serious injuries, rumors about the mental state of one of the children in the school circulated throughout our social media platforms. I was very disturbed to hear that there was a suicidal child in the school who had attempted suicide more than once. Apparently, parents of this child’s peers among other adults knew about this situation. Now whether or not this is true, I cannot confirm as I do not know. Even if I did, I wouldn’t mention it for obvious reasons. But I asked myself and others some questions as I tried to comprehend what I was hearing. The answers, or lack of them thereof , left me heartbroken.
- If so many people suspected or heard that she had attempted suicide, what was done about it?
- Are school authorities taught the signs and symptoms of a psychologically unstable child?
- After identifying an unstable child, is there protocol to be followed to secure the child safety and health?
- Do parents know how to identify a troubled child?
- Who do you call or where do you take your child who threatens to commit suicide or commit a crime?
And the list of questions goes on and on…some of the questions unfortunately, I cannot ask in this forum without landing a few people in hot soup!
Given the countless suicides we have learnt about this year, It is evident that we, as Kenyans, are sitting in the middle of a mental health crisis and we don’t even know it, or chose to ignore this crisis. It is easier for the brain to deny some truths in an effort to protect itself from the reality. Many police officers, doctors, students are on self destruct mode and still I don’t hear anything being done to address this emergency, correct me if I’m wrong. By now we should have a national suicide hotline and mandatory psychotherapy available and known to everyone in my opinion.
I have lost 2 young male friends to suicide, but no one noticed the signs until they had already taken their lives. It was too late. The signs became apparent after we discussed and replayed the moments before the suicide retrospectively with those who spent time with them daily. It is either that they didn’t recognize he was in danger or if they suspected that suicide was a possibility, didn’t know what to do. I remember saying to myself “ I wish I knew this, maybe I could have helped by pointing it out”…Unfortunately, shoulda coulda woulda isn’t good enough.
So, what are some of the signs of a mentally disturbed individual in need of urgent medical attention? Just in case you’re wondering, psychological problems are medical problems. Who should you call if you want to end your life or the lives of others?
SIGNS OF A PERSON IN NEED OF MENTAL HEALTH INTERVENTION*
- Sad, low mood
- Lack interest in anything/activities that were previously enjoyable
- Can suddenly burst into tears
- Insomnia/hypersomnia/change in sleeping patterns
- Helplessness and hopelessness
- Excessive guilt; making statements like, “everyone will be better off without me.”
- Poor concentration and focus
- Anger and aggression
- Self destructive behavior ( cutting wrists, sexual promiscuity)
- Substance use and abuse
- Poor self care and hygiene, eg urinating on oneself and not cleaning up
- Talking about suicide/homicide threats
- Previous attempts
BEHAVIORS TO WATCH FOR SPECIFIC TO CHILDREN
- Agitation and acting out/rebellious acts
- Withdrawal from others
- Poor school performance
- Running away from home
- Truancy (missing school)
- Death wishes
- Any reckless and dangerous behaviors including attempts to overdose on medications including cough syrup
- Excessive watching violent movies and/or playing video games on death
CONTRIBUTING FACTORS AND SITUATIONS
- History of sexual abuse
- History of child abuse
- History of bullying or harassment
- History of a dysfunctional domestic setting:
- Parental separation or divorce
- Domestic violence
- Alcoholic parent(s)
- Mental health disorders ( depression ,schizophrenia, bipolar among others)
- Suicide in the family
- Death of a loved one
It is IMPERATIVE that you do not ignore these signs and threats. All indicate the need for urgent attention.
*these lists are not exhaustive
WHAT DO YOU DO AFTER IDENTIFYING A TROUBLED PERSON?
- Speak to the individual.
Ask them if there is anything they would need to ease the pain or distress. Find out what’s going on. Some experts say ask the person if they are thinking about suicide. And if you feel comfortable, ask if they have a plan. If they do have a plan, remove dangerous items like medications, knives, ropes, razor blades, and lock them up. A suicidal child or individual should not be left alone until they are stabilized.
- Seek immediate and urgent medical attention.
Take the person to see a psychiatrist, any doctor, or hospital. At a hospital the medical staff will know what to do. It’s advisable to have emergency numbers you can call to assist in the event you cannot leave the person alone or get them to hospital.
Counseling psychology is a very useful service available almost anywhere. If you suspect your child or loved one is having a hard time dealing with stressors, please seek a counselor’s services and they can refer to psychiatrists if they deem it necessary.
- Avoid gossiping about it.
Discuss the signs with someone if you are seeking assistance to chart a way forward. Anything outside of this is gossip! Stop it! If you are not helping out, ship out.
- Stick around
Unless your safety is at risk, do not leave anyone who is at high risk of attempting suicide or destructive acts alone. Call for help. Assess your environment and ensure all of you are safe.
The most important thing you can do is to speak out! DO NOT BE QUIET or ignore these threats. There is nothing worse than wishing you had said something when it’s too late to change anything.
Below are a list of hotlines and numbers that may be helpful
BEFRIENDS KENYA – +254 722 178 177
SITAWA’S HOTLINE – 22214
NISKIZE – 090 062 0800
CHILDLINE KENYA – 072211611
(Refer to the emergency contacts section to find a list of counselors in Kenya)
Kenyans, together we can end the stigma associated with mental health issues, stop ignoring that mental health problems exist and start dealing with them.
Special thanks to Grace Kariuki, a Marriage and Family Counselor who has been of great assistance with this article and in other Vunja Kimya initiatives offering endless support to victims of sexual and Intimate partner violence. Contact the Vunja Kimya team for further information on 0792 288 140, 0739 455 677