What is suicide?

Suicide is when a person intentionally causes harm to or hurts themselves with the intent to end their life, and they die as a result.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that one person dies of suicide every 40 seconds. Globally, Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among youth aged 15 to29 years. 

Additionally, the data from WHO shows that 6 out of every 100,000 people die of suicide in Kenya. 

How can I tell if someone is in danger of suicide? 

There are several factors that can make a person more likely to think about, try, or die of suicide. These include:

  • A person who has attempted suicide is more likely to do so again. 
  • Experience of violence and abuse such as child abuse, bullying, gender-based violence, conflicts and war are usually associated with increased risk of developing depression, anxiety and other conditions that might make someone have a higher suicidal risk. 
  • Mental illnesses such as depression and bipolar disorder (extreme mood swings) can result in a person experiencing strong and mixed feelings, including feelings of hopelessness, and they may even make suicidal attempts.
  • A person living with suicidal thoughts is more likely to choose to attempt suicide if they feel stigmatized about getting help and talking about mental illness.
  • Grief, stigma, and depression are common among those who have lost a loved one to suicide, which raises their risk of developing suicidal thoughts. 
  • Alcohol and illegal drug use can lead to mental highs and lows that can influence suicidal thoughts.
  • Living with a serious illness and chronic pain such as cancer or arthritis, is a heavy emotional burden and can make a person feel powerless over their lives. They might feel trapped and lead them to having suicidal thoughts and even attempting suicide to get away from the feeling and situation. 
  • If a person has access to means that they can use to injure or kill themselves. 
  • Suicidal thoughts may occur in some people when they experience certain life events, such as losing a loved one, struggling financially, going through a difficult breakup or divorce, being bullied, or performing poorly at school.

What are some of the suicide warning signs?

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves. For example, “I wish I was dead”. 
  • Talking about feeling hopeless and having no reason to live.  
  • Planning or researching about ways to die or take their life. 
  • Talking about being in a lot of pain or feeling trapped.
  • Giving away important personal possessions. 
  • Talking about feeling that they are a burden to others.
  • Noticeable changes in behavior such as sleeping too much, not sleeping at all, isolating themselves or withdrawing from family and friends, increased use of alcohol and drugs, extreme mood changes, being impulsive or reckless.
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family as if they will not meet again.

Read more here about situations that can influence a person’s possibility of attempting suicide and the warning signs from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Common myths about suicide.

Discussions about suicide are rare in most societies, with most people having the wrong information about it. Some common myths about suicide include:


Graphic: Common Myths and Facts about Suicide

How can you help someone with suicidal thoughts?

If someone you know is thinking about suicide or you observe the above-mentioned indications, pay attention to them, listen to them, and take them seriously. Tell them that you care and that they are not alone. In addition, you can help to prevent suicide by:

  1. Asking direct questions: Find out if they are thinking about ending their life, you may ask, “Are you thinking of harming/killing yourself?”, and if they have thought of the means they will use. This will help you to determine whether if the person is in immediate danger and get help. 
  2. Keeping them safe: You can achieve this by restricting the person’s access to items such as pesticides, ropes, or sharp objects that can be used in a suicide. 
  3. Encouraging them to seek help from a mental health professional: Mental health professionals are trained to support and help people in distress. If your loved one is reluctant to visit one, you can offer to accompany them to their appointments. 
  4. Show Compassion: Staying with them, talking to them with kindness and listening to them will remind them that someone cares about them. 


Graphic: Some ways of supporting someone who has suicidal thoughts. 

Where to get help

Contact the following numbers if you are experiencing mental health-related distress or are worried about a loved one who may need mental health support.

(The contact details below focus on serving refugees in different camps in Kenya. Please contact your nearby hospital if you are not in refugee camps.)

1. In Kakuma 

International Rescue Committee (IRC)0792067135
Humanity & Inclusion (HI)0725456334
Danish Refugee Council (DRC)0800720414
Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS)0741417977
Lutheran World Federation (LWF)0800721330
Center for Victims of Torture (CVT)0759740838


2. In Dadaab:

Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS)0701494904
International Rescue Committee (IRC)0704600513 
Doctors Without Borders (MSF)0790205727


This article was developed with support from the Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) Technical Working Group in Kakuma Refugee Camp.

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