This has left many families shocked and disillusioned. However, more worrying is the fact that not many families are willing to talk about it and many will go to any lengths to deny and hide a suicide or a case of attempted suicide.
At the Kenyatta National Hospital, about 100 suicide attempt cases of young adults between 18 and 25 years have been attended to in the last two months.
“Some are just from the communities around but majority are from Nairobi University, they are the ones that have tendencies to commit suicide. I have attended to one case from Daystar University. Others are from USIU (United States International University) and Kenyatta University. Those are the four universities that me personally I have gone through with people with that problem,” says Elizabeth Mwavisa, a Psychological Counselor at the hospital.
Pamela Bii is the mother of a second year University student who recently took his life.
She has decided to go public with what she sees as a hidden disaster.
“The reason why I am doing this is for parents to wake up. There is a problem in the higher learning institutions. We do not need to see so many children dying in this manner. There are many children who have committed suicide; your child should not just be a number, a statistic. It should be checked what happened, it is wrong to keep quiet about it, there is no shame about suicide,” she emphasises.
Pamela’s first born son, Brian Bii, 21, was a student at the USIU, Nairobi campus.
She says there was no way of telling that Brian would commit suicide, because according to her, everything was normal.
“We talked maturely with him, we had conversations with him, and he would listen so we are really baffled. We have no clue what happened to Brian,” she explains of her son who killed himself at the family’s home in Nairobi’s South C Estate.
Brian left no suicide note and all the family can do now is speculate on why he chose to take his life.
“What I feel is that there could be something, there may be pressure coming out of school or some gang land kind of stuff. We are just speculating, we have no idea, but we have a feeling that there is some pressure that was being exerted to him and he was in a position of either being compromised or he had agreed or something, I am not sure. He grew up in a Christian environment, he knew God and that is why we don’t understand what happened,” she says.
There are unconfirmed reports of six suicide cases at USIU, but the management says there are no official records of suicide cases at the institution.
According to the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Student Affairs Rita Asunda, there are seven recorded deaths at the institution but they are resultant of a variety of reasons such as road accidents, illnesses and the recent kidnapping and murder of a fourth year student, Sarah Aruwa.
“There is one case (suicide) that I have heard but it is an unofficial report and I normally don’t take things that have been given to me unofficially as something to put on record,” Asunda says.
The Institution – mainly a day campus – has 5,200 students. University statistics indicate that 265 students there went through psychological counseling in the last semester.
“I know that not many places have parental education and this is a difficult stage for most parents because once the students come to the university, the assumption is that they are adults and yet there are issues that they have to deal with,” explains Lucy Kung’u, Head of Counseling at USIU.
“They have to deal with adult issues like do I take alcohol don’t I take alcohol, do I smoke don’t I smoke, do I have a girlfriend, do I marry, you know those issues. So parents have a big role to play and yes there are times we will give them counseling here, (then) they will go home and relapse,” she goes on to say.
The students we spoke to at the Campus say flashy lifestyles and peer influence are also a problem
“In USIU people literally go out every night of the week so you find that it is either you are in for the education or the flashy lifestyle. If you are in for the flashy lifestyle you flop in education, if it’s the education then you miss the lifestyle and then the pressure now piles on you,” one student tells us.
“You come in here innocent but when you see the party life, guys are influencing you, you try to fit in and that is where the problem begins,” says another.
But Brian’s mother says postmortem reports indicate that Brian was not on drugs or alcohol.
“He had actually matured so much and become responsible. The only thing is that he was insisting he doesn’t want to go back to the hostels, because there were weird things happening there,” she says.
In May this year, a University of Nairobi Student killed himself at his parents’ home and the reason remains unknown.
A student at the Daystar University revealed to us that two of their colleagues had killed themselves. One committed suicide in 2010, and the second one, early this year.
According to counselors, broken relationships, financial difficulties, drug abuse, academic issues and HIV/AIDS rank top the list as reasons for suicide and attempted suicide.
“Relationships are the main problem especially with parents. This is very typical of that age because these young people are on transition from home to the world and they want to separate from parents and at times it is not easy, so there will be the push and pull,” says Kung’u.
“It is rare that somebody who wants to commit suicide will come in here alone to seek counseling services. Majority are brought but those with broken relationships involving boy-girl relationships come here running literally, because they want to talk to somebody,” adds Mwavisa of the Kenyatta National Hospital.
She says the tell tale signs that a person could commit suicide are self isolation, suspicious behaviour, mood swings and rudeness.
According to Pamela, there is need to research on what is happening in the institutions of higher learning that is leading to these unnecessary deaths.
“I think teachers especially in Universities spend a lot of time doing research concerning every other thing. I think it is time now they researched themselves so that they could also try and find out the problem,” she says.
“The universities should be helping us as parents because they are with our children, so they could study them and see what could be happening in that environment. I believe that there could be somebody out there who can help because I feel like we could be having a communication barrier,” the mother of three adds.
She says the church also needs to be involved in this because it could be something that is beyond the universities.
“It could be something of spiritual matters and I feel like at the level in which it is in, every stakeholder needs to be involved,” she concludes.