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Football for mental health- Josiah Gathura memorial cup

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Nairobi County Senator Johnson Sakaja joins Major Kariuki and his family during the launch of the Josiah Gathura Kariuki memorial Tournament. PHOTO/Timothy Olobulu

NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 24 – Josiah Gathura Kariuki was your normal bubbly, jovial and quite playful 18-year old, moving about life and keeping his passion for football alive, every weekend hustling his dad to drive him to training.

He had dreams not only of being a good footballer and probably going pro, but was also set to travel to the United Kingdom to study Business and Economics.

But on a chilly morning on May 3, 2017, the dreams drowned in a pool of blood and with the biting bang of a bullet, Josiah took his own life with his father’s gun, at their home, in a bathroom.

“It was one of those incidents that we never saw coming. Josiah was your normal kid; very agile, focused, hard working and everything was going on well for him. He looked like he was well into his way to the future. We couldn’t suspect anything,” his father, Major (Rtd) Michael Kariuki, Safaricom’s Head of Security told Capital Sport.

What they did not know is that Josiah, who had previously struggled with depression, had come to his tether’s end. He had had enough with life and in the thick of the moment decided enough was enough.

Major Michael Kariuki and his wife Kathy Kariuki during their interview at the Capital FM offices. PHOTO/Sam Wanjohi

Devastating news. His parents had been away on vacation in London and as soon as the news reached them, they cut short their trip. Josiah was admitted in intensive care but couldn’t hold on to his young life.

The bullet, shot at close range with his father’s Ceska gun, had ripped through his head.

“We knew that he had been dealing with depression and we had put in good support structures and had even retained a counsellor for him. But the thing about depression is that it pushes you to a corner that you feel obliged to fight back in a way that shows you as strong,” the retired Army Major further explained.

For struggles that he had fought with for a while, the thick of the moment, the flicker of an eye, he was pushed to the extreme. Suicide.

“As a parent, you ask yourself, why didn’t I see it happen? Could I have done better to prevent it?” his step mother Kathy Kariuki said.

As the family commemorates one year since the unfortunate events, they have made a decision to help out other families and young people who might be headed to the same direction by putting up a two-day football event, Josiah’s first love.

The Josiah Gathura Memorial Foundation Tournament at the Impala Ground on Saturday and Sunday will attract a total of 50 teams from the Under-18, 19 and 23 men’s category and an open women’s category for a prize money of Sh225,000.

Major Michael Kariuki addresses guests during the launch of the Josiah Gathura Kariuki memorial Tournament. PHOTO/Timothy Olobulu

“Soccer is a very popular sport and therefore we felt it would be a good avenue to use to mobilize many young people and bring them into one space then together with mental health professionals influence them,” Major (Rtd) Kariuki noted.

“Soccer was Josiah’s first love and we decided to use it because he loved the game and this will be a good memory for him,” he added.

He has also hinted there are plans to have the tournament played across all the counties and probably more than once a year as they seek to alleviate the suicide problems as well as create awareness for mental health.

“There’s a lot of stigma around the issues of mental health and no one wants to talk about it. The young men especially feel as though it is weak to come out and say ‘I am depressed’ because of the way society is set up,” Major Kariuki noted.

“This is a problem that does not have boundaries whether you are rich, poor, old or young. It affects everyone.”

Among plans that the foundation has include setting up a website and toll-free number where those suffering from mental health can voice their issues as well as seek professional help.

The foundation will also seek to empower parents, teachers and the society at large especially in creating an environment where the young people will find comfort in voicing their issues.

Major Michael Kariuki introduces his family during the launch of the Josiah Gathura Kariuki memorial Tournament. PHOTO/Timothy Olobulu

“Parents need to be aware of the environment their kids live in. There’s a lot of pressure now because it’s different times. As parents, we need to be present for these kids and listen to them,” Ms Kariuki said, sentiments that were shared by her husband.

“Parenting is complex nowadays and our young people are faced with a lot of challenges, more than they can handle. It is important for us as parents to create time with our kids not just a matter of chasing money everywhere and living the responsibility of raising the kids to house helps or drivers. We need to create an environment at home that is conducive for our children to express themselves,” he noted.

Last September, when the world marked the World Suicide Prevention Day, it was disclosed by the World Health organization that up to 7,000 suicides are reported in Kenya annually with tens of thousands more attempting to kill themselves in what is often blamed on depression.

According to a Ministry of Health research also conducted then, about 7mn Kenyans had attempted suicide which accounts to almost 16pc of the entire population.

According to a research conducted in June this year, the number of suicides reported in Kenya rose by 58 per cent between 2008 and 2017 to reach 421.

Also, the research conducted by The World Population Review ranks Kenya at position 114 among 175 countries with the highest suicide rate.

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