By Gatonye Gathura
Suicide attempts among young and recently married men in Kenya are on the rise with pesticides the agent of choice.
Recent hospital data on patients admitted with acute poisoning across the country shows worrying rates of attempted suicides among young poor men.
This, public health officers say is cause for worry because pesticides are readily available and there is no way of keeping them away from suicidal adults
The latest report from Nandi County says intentionally pesticide poisoning is raising serious public health concerns.
The investigation by a team from Kenyatta University says 140 recent cases of pesticide poisonings out of 166 recorded at four public hospitals in Nandi County were intentional.
The team says a whopping 85 per cent of the patients or 140 had taken the pesticides deliberately with the intention of causing self-harm.
The investigations were carried out at Kapsabet County Referral Hospital, Nandi Hills County Hospital, Kaptumo Sub-County Hospital and Mosoriot Sub-County Hospital all in Nandi County.
Most of the patients, 122 were males compared to 44 females with more than 60 per cent of both genders being in a marriage. Only five unmarried males took the poison intentionally.
The study appearing in the journal Clinical and Experimental Medical Sciences this month (March 5, 2021) says majority of the men were aged below 30 years.
The researchers led by John Mbugua attribute the high rates of self-poisoning to economic and social challenges especially facing young men. This, the researchers say is worsened by alcohol abuse and domestic problems.
In the nearby Kericho County, a team from Egerton University found similar trends at the Kericho County Hospital.
Records at the hospital showed pesticide poisoning to consist five per cent of all cases of poisoning at the facility.
“The data and interviews with patients revealed that their poisoning was intentional and none was due to occupational exposure.”
Males accounted for 74 per cent of the cases with 94 per cent saying sour romantic relationships were the cause of wanting to end their lives.
Out of the 35 poisoning patients who participated in this study, 29 were males most of them aged between 15 and 25 years.
The highest cases of poisoning were noted in two different age groups. Those aged 15-20 who the authors suspect to be in their first romantic relationships and the age group 31-35 who were recently married.
A majority, 94 per cent, the report says were serious about dying while six per cent were attention seekers; the latter likely to try suicide in the daytime.
While romance gone wrong seemed to have been the main reason for trying to end own life in Kericho County, the majority were from poor backgrounds involved in casual work.
In neighboring Nyanza, things are no better with suicide attempts being the second highest cause of poisoning recorded at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital.
A team at the facility investigated 385 recent cases of poisoning and found that other than accidental poisoning through snake bites, most poison victims were due to family conflicts and love affairs gone sour.
It also blamed high rates of suicidal poisoning among men to poverty and lack of employment, leading to stress and desperation.
Unemployment and poverty, the report says, had especially put a huge burden on men expected by society to provide but who can no longer meet societal obligations.
At Nakuru Provincial General Hospital, doctors had reviewed 96 cases of acute poisoning attended to at the facility for a six-month period.
“This study showed that the majority of acute poisoning cases affected males aged about 27 and were intentional with pesticides the main agent of use,” said the report in the journal South African Family Practice.
Even when it comes to pesticides, the chemical amitraz mainly used for tick control in livestock was exclusively used by males to commit suicide. Women were likely to have been poisoned with Rat or RatR (zinc phosphide) used for domestic mice control.
“The fact that intentional poisoning was highest in early adulthood, 20- 30 year- age group, suggests that this group may be experiencing economic pressure to provide for families,” says the study.
Other reasons for the distress, the study suggests could be alcohol and drug abuse, as well as emotional stress.
The high number of poisoning in males the report says may be explained by the lack of adequate psycho-social support for men, unlike for women who are involved in informal groups such as the merry-go-round.
Data from the country’s main referral facility- Kenyatta National Hospital also confirms all is not well for young men in Kenya.
“Because KNH admits patients from all over Kenya the study mirror closely the situation in the rest of the country,” said the investigators from the University of Nairobi.
The study covering a one and half year period had reviewed 458 patients of poisoning admitted at the facility where 59 per cent being were males.
“Suicide was the most common circumstance of poisoning, accounting for 44 per cent of total poisoning admissions and 70 per cent of all poisoning among those in the 21-30 years age bracket,” said the report by Dr David Gitonga Nyamu of the University of Nairobi.
Most patients, Gitonga said were mainly young male adults faced with new challenges in their relationships, finances, and emotional status.
“This just goes to prove the kind of mental health crisis we are facing,” said Dr Frank Njenga the chairman of the Taskforce on Mental Health.
The task force which presented its findings to the government in July recommended mental illness be declared a national emergency of epidemic proportions and be prioritized in economic planning.
“Kenyans are sitting on a time bomb and the time to act is now,” said Dr Njenga. He said the ongoing Covid 19 pandemic is worsening an already bad situation in the lives and mental wellness of Kenyans.
Kenyans had told the task force they are highly stressed by personal debts, low income, unemployment, retrenchment, diseases and disasters.
The task force had recommended the establishment of a well-resourced Mental Health and Happiness Commission, a plea which has since been incorporated in the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report.