Suicide behaviour in social circles increases risk for Kenyan men

2018-10-22 19:31
iStock

iStock

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Michael Goodman, The University of Texas Medical Branch

Suicide is increasingly recognised as a global health challenge by the World Health Organisation who call for society-wide efforts to prevent suicide.

In a recent study, we set out to understand the drivers of suicide for young men in Meru county, in central Kenya. We wanted to know whether young men in the region were more at risk of contemplating suicide if they have more friends and family who have attempted, or committed, suicide.

Previous research has found that incidents of suicide and emotional states contribute to suicidal thoughts passing among networks of friends and within families. Part of the familial link may be genetic, but evidence shows that social pathways – like the transmission of considering suicide as a viable option and devaluing one’s own life as a result of a peer’s self destructiveness – also exist.

If we identify factors that predict why young men consider suicide as an option, we can potentially stop suicides before they happen.

Contemplating suicide

Using surveys, we randomly interviewed 514 young men (aged 18-34 years) in the Igembe sub-counties of Meru County. We used the Modified Scale of Suicide Ideation – a scale that assesses the presence or absence of suicidal thoughts and how severe suicidal ideas are – and coded for only the most severe cases.

We found that, over two days, around 12% of men engaged in severe suicide ideation – they prepared a plan to end their lives, and considered their own death with concerning intensity or frequency. Though global lifetime estimates of considering suicide range between 14%-33%, our survey specifically screened for more severe suicide ideation, as opposed to more common passing thoughts about ending one’s life.

Among young men who reported that none of their friends had completed suicide, the percentage who had contemplated suicide was 5%. This is much lower than the percentage of respondents who engaged in severe suicidal ideation if they had one friend who completed suicide (17%), and higher still if respondents knew two or more friends who completed suicide (32%).

Similarly, the prevalence of suicidal thoughts increases with the number of friends who attempt, but don’t complete, suicide. If a family member completed suicide during the respondent’s first 18 years of life, the risk for present suicidal thoughts increases by 20% in the respondent’s young adulthood. These patterns are consistent regardless of education, age and household wealth.

File 20181012 119117 1ie1xwy.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1Suicide is increasingly recognised as a global health challenge. Love the Wind/Shutterstock

Explanations

Consistent with other studies, we found a relationship between self-esteem, loneliness and suicide that may explain this pattern. Men who reported more suicide among friends and family, reported lower social self-esteem, a predictor of suicide behaviour. Men who reported lower self-esteem also reported more loneliness – described as the pain felt when they believed they didn’t belong socially and emotionally.

The image is therefore that men who have experienced suicide in their social groups think their social groups are less valuable and experience loneliness. They then experience less meaning in life and thoughts of ending their own life can begin to form.

Prior research also finds that our thoughts about ourselves are influenced by the self destructive behaviours of our peers. We can internalise their emotions and behaviours as though these emotions and behaviours were our own through a process called projective identification.

Peer suicide doesn’t affect the majority and identifying social and psychological factors that lead to resistance needs more investigation, and likely includes making meaning from the tragedy.

Implications

The implications of this research are multi-fold.

As with many countries, Kenya lacks enough mental health resources to meet the demand for services. Resources to prevent suicide in the future should target young men who are friends or children of those who have attempted or completed suicide in the past. This includes identifying and following-up with friends of suicide attempters who come to emergency health centres.

Efforts should focus on group support and gratitude interventions which encourage people to remember at least one thing they are thankful for each day by writing or drawing it down. Gratitude interventions can improve one’s sense of meaning in life and reduce suicidal thoughts.

Faith, community, education and other leaders should be sensitised to the challenges faced by those who remain behind after a loved one’s suicide.

And finally, media campaigns should be promoted that improve awareness and reduce stigma related to mental health issues.The Conversation

Michael Goodman, Instructor, Social Epidemiology, The University of Texas Medical Branch

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Read more on:    kenya  |  east africa

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Inside News24

 
/News
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.