, NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 10 – “I was drunk. I had been smoking and then I had a fight with my boyfriend,” says Janet Wanjiru as she remembers the first time she attempted suicide on a cold Thursday in June 2006.
“I chased him (boyfriend) out of the house and then popped all the prescription pills I had, which were more than 40, before losing consciousness. I was found two days later,” she recounts.
Wanjiru is among the ten percent of adult Kenyans who suffer from depression- a severe mental illness.
The 27-year-old mother of one was diagnosed with major depressive disorder in 2006 and has attempted to end her life so many times that she has lost count.
Her husband Walter Akello places the attempts at above ten.
“With depression, suicide is like the determining factor; you are mostly suicidal and I have reached that point many times,” she explains.
“The most recent attempt was early this year. I tucked my daughter in, said my goodnights as my husband went to sleep and I was left watching a movie. I again went for the pills and my husband found me lying on the floor struggling to breath,” she remembers.
Wanjiru, who is currently expecting her second child, says she suffered low self esteem through most of her life which culminated in physical symptoms like ulcers, asthma, painful menses, neck and back pains.
The random physical symptoms came with numerous visits to the hospitals but doctors could not find anything wrong with her.
“I suffered headaches and general sicknesses but all the tests were negative and it went on for almost one year before one of the doctors recommended a psychiatric evaluation. I had about 42 symptoms out of the listed 60 in the psych evaluation,” she says.
“And then bang, they told me I had bipolar. Of course the news took a while before it sunk in and I remained in denial,” she reveals.
Thirty-one-year-old Kanyi Gikonyo has also been through the depression motions.
He has made two attempts at his own life – in 2002 and again in 2006.
“My life didn’t feel like it was going to get better and it felt like driving to Mombasa on gear two. In both instances I did not take care of myself; I did not shower and I decided to find a solution to end it all,” he recalls.
“In 2002 I overdosed on asthma pills and couldn’t breath and then in 2006 I took a bottle of something else which damaged my lungs but they healed. I just wanted to end the pain,” he says.
Kanyi, who was diagnosed as bipolar in 2002, says he often struggles with feelings of worthlessness that make him like he is stuck on one page.