Huge costs of ignorance as a recurring tragedy

CASE A: About three weeks ago, a young female student took her own life. According to her own Facebook posts, she apparently had a chaotic childhood, was sponsoring herself through school and looking after her own mother – who was a single parent. She was a brilliant poet and a talented writer.

She was dealing with depression and suicidal feelings for at least 11 months as evidenced by the haunting details she vividly wrote about. Her despair, gloom and feelings of helplessness were all too clear. The intensity of her emotional pain was a strongly recurring theme across her writings and poetry. She was drowning and screamed through her writings for someone to help and rescue her. Some friends must have tried…..but in the end, we all failed her.

Case B: A young mother recently killed her 21 months old daughter by drowning her in a bucket of water. She had expressed similar intentions as she felt her life was meaningless and that she was unhappy she brought the baby into the world. Indeed, she saw the baby as a major setback that was restraining her from making progress in life and expressed these ideas to her sister who was supportive and encouraging.

Her sister had notified their parents and pastor who also intervened. However, the following day after her sister had left for work, she had the time to carry out her intentions. She then left a note for her sister admitting her action and bidding them goodbye forever. Subsequently, she reported herself to the police station. In the viral video, she admitted that she didn’t have any hope that things would ever get better at all. It is also important to note that the pregnancy was unwanted in the first place, and it resulted during a rape. But she blamed herself for it because she went to his house by herself.



We can’t do justice to all the issues that need unpacking within the constraints of space here, but will attempt to flag a few and connect some of the dots.

Ignorance, shame and stigma are deadly: In Case A, the young lady screamed herself hoarse through her writings for almost a year but help was not forthcoming. Case B also had challenges and was fed up with life, was ashamed of her life, saw her future as bleak, and considered prison to be better than her present existence. As a society, we need to be doing better with recognising the symptoms and signs of emotional distress.

We should not be dismissive or insensitive and we definitely should not be telling them to simply snap out of it. If someone had a fracture, we would not simply tell them to get up and walk, we would show them empathy and kindness. But we still view emotional challenges as a failing, weakness or lack of faith to be scoffed at; rather than the medical disorder it is.

Adolescent reproductive health and sexual assault need to be tackled. In case A, the mother conceived her via an unwanted teenage pregnancy and the man responsible refused to accept responsibility. Subsequently, her mother’s education was truncated, she was ostracised and shamed and she became bitter and turned to drug abuse (according to the writings of the late poet). She also resented the daughter and it was a love-hate relationship all through until the daughter took her own life.

In case B, it was also an unwanted teenage pregnancy that resulted from sexual assault. And unfortunately, it set in motion, a negative cascade of events that led to her probable depression and culminated in the tragic killing (filicide) of the innocent baby girl.

Social support and health-seeking behaviour. We need improved social services via the empowerment of social workers, better funding of the relevant ministries and improved citizen awareness of how and where to seek help. In the context of case B, her sister was sufficiently alarmed but she turned to family and the pastor – with the best of intentions but they perhaps lacked the expertise to recognise the danger. Otherwise, her baby should have been taken away from her, even if transiently and she should have seen a mental health professional.

Criminal justice system and mental health. The criminal justice system, the police and correctional services should develop a harmonious working relationship with mental health professionals for smooth co-ordination of cases that may require mental health assessments and support. In case B, it is to be expected that her criminal responsibility and fitness to plead should be ascertained via psychiatric evaluation.



The biggest obstacles we face remain the ignorance, shame and stigma associated with mental health challenges. And our inability to connect the dots and see how irresponsible behaviours can cause far-reaching consequences.




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