By Kenneth Okombo
Suicide is often a taboo topic, especially for us Kenyans. Anytime there a report about individuals taking their own life,we usually give reasons to suit our denial. Professionally, I came face to face with suicide, or rather suicidal people when I was attached at one of the Level 5 hospitals in one of the counties bordering Nairobi. Never had I experienced anything to do with suicide before this period in my life. Not even in the psychology units that I had been doing for the past 3 years.
So here I am first day of attachment ,received with a little hype. I was to attend to a teenage girl who had attempted to take her own life, not once but three times. So my supervisor after quickly grilling my skill in psychology, quipped up her phone and called the teenage girl’s mum. Fear and anxiety were the main emotions I could feel as my supervisor agreed for an immediate appointment. Fear because I was going to actually try convince someone to start living and stop seeing death as the only way out. Anxious for I had never in my life interacted with someone who had suicidal ideation.
At around 11 O’ clock, as I was still familiarizing myself to this new workplace, came a knock on the door and in walked in a young girl in a big hoodie, head bowed down, behind her was her mum looking worried. I asked the chic to remove the hood since we were indoors. She complied silently. The mother was telling me about how withdrawn her daughter had become and how much it pained her that her daughter wanted to commit suicide. If you could measure how much emotion there was in the room, probably the scales would be hitting the limits.
So my supervisor probably noticing it, took charge of the situation, asked the mum to accompany her outside. Off they went. Slowly I first told the girl that I was there for her and no matter what happened I will still be there for her. She at first looked at me, with disbelief, she asked me a single question, “why should I keep on living?” I shuddered, actually I did not have an answer to this question, but with all the courage I could muster, I said “I have one thousand reasons.” Immediately even with my unsure answer, I noticed that her facial expression had changed. “Really?” she asked almost smiling. This was a start for me. Just like that, the young girl opened up to me on how life was not working out for her. Everything seemed to be falling apart, she was failing in class, she hated the school because of bullies, and her mother was not there, the list was endless on how so many bad things were happening in her life.
So the first thing I noticed was the negative vibes. She could remember all the negative things that happened in her life, in time she had tricked her mind to thinking like this. I asked her for a favor, she was to go and list down at least ten good things that happen to her everyday until the next time she came for therapy. Her demeanor had now changed, she was smiling as we were trying to count down the first ten good things. I could clearly see at number One she had written, Dr. Ken-my new friend. Time was up because a session typically lasted an hour. My supervisor knocked on the door and asked if we were done and entered with the mum. They all noticed the change in the girl’s outlook. Three years on, she is still alive and I ended up dealing with more clients with suicidal ideation.
There are a few things I learnt would not mind sharing with everyone.
- Suicide is not a onetime action but rather a culmination of events. Usually starts with but not limited to depression, loneliness and probable mental disorder
- One cannot simply stop being suicidal by you telling them to.
- That one call to a friend who is stressed about his joblessness, that thank you to a stranger who made way for you. Just one simple kind gestures as small as it may seem to you is enough to save a life.
Not to forget one of the most important things you can ever learn from this line of work, is that positive thoughts lead to a positive life.