Published: June 1, 2024

As they say, life is a gift from God and can only be given by Him (Ochieng & Kamau, 2021). Therefore, it was always forbidden to take your own life and others’. Suicide has always been the subject of constant controversy and endless debate. Religion, monarchy, and colonialism have condemned and forbidden suicide. According to the World Health Organization (2023), suicide is the act of deliberately killing oneself. Risk factors for suicide include mental disorders, especially depression, and neurological disorders, cancer, and HIV infection. Every year, almost one million people die from suicide, 86% of whom are in low/middle-income countries. Suicide is among the three leading causes of death for young people under 25 and accounts for 10%-20% of deaths in women up to one year after giving birth.

Suicide may be influenced by a variety of factors. It is influenced by biological, genetic, and environmental risks. In addition, sociopolitical factors play a significant role in understanding suicide. Although suicide is a significant global issue, the reasons behind why individuals choose to end their own lives remain largely unclear. Studies have revealed that those who take their own lives often have underlying mental health conditions, with depression and alcoholism being the most prevalent.

The decision to commit suicide, therefore, is multi-layered and is influenced by a combination of psychological, environmental, social, and personal factors. In many cases, suicide is also linked to feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and worthlessness. Many experts believe a number of things determine how vulnerable a person is to suicidal thinking and behavior. Also, suicide in Kenya among young people has been reported. For instance, Khasakhala, Ndeti, and Mathai (2013) carried a study in Kenya and found that suicidal behaviors are associated with alcohol abuse, substance use, love affairs among the youth, maternal depression disorders, and perceived maternal rejecting parenting behavior among the youth (Muasa, 2022).

When suicide attempts are considered to be punishable crimes, suicide attempts are often undeclared and deaths by suicide are more often classified as accidental or of undetermined cause. Decriminalization of suicide attempts will enhance opportunities for effective suicide prevention and interventions, thereby reducing the incidence of behaviors that may be considered to be reprehensible or immoral.

Some Factors that Contribute to Dying by Suicide

I have often asked myself, “What leads individuals to commit suicide?” It is essential to recognize that there are often multiple factors that contribute to someone deciding to end their own life. Let’s explore a few of these factors according to Schimelpfening (2021).

Psychological Factors – Mental Illness

The most common mental health condition behind a person’s decision to die by suicide is severe depression. Depression can make people feel high levels of emotional pain and loss of hope, making them unable to see any other way to find relief than ending their own life. One of the most challenging aspects of depression is the feeling of isolation and alienation that it brings. People struggling with depression often feel like they are alone in their suffering, unable to reach out for help or support. As the pain and despair intensify, their thoughts may turn towards suicide as a way to escape from the endless cycle of emotional torment.

Physical Factors – Chronic Pain and Illnesses

Chronic pain and illness can be very painful and can take away a person’s sense of control over their own life. When faced with no hope of a cure or relief from suffering, some individuals may see suicide as a way to regain a sense of dignity and agency in their own lives. In the United States, in states where assisted suicide has been legalized or decriminalized, this option provides a powerful form of autonomy for those who are suffering immensely (Schimelpfening, 2021). Legalizing assisted suicide offers these individuals a way to have some control over their own fate. It allows them to make the decision to end their lives on their own terms, rather than having to endure endless pain and suffering. By taking this step, they are able to reclaim a sense of dignity and autonomy that may have been lost in the face of their illness (Schimelpfening, 2021).

According to a study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, the following health conditions were associated with a higher risk of suicide:

  • Asthma
  • Back pain
  • Brain injury
  • Cancer
  • Congestive heart failure

Social Factors – Social Isolation

There are numerous reasons why an individual may find themselves socially isolated, such as the loss of close relationships, health issues, anxiety, retirement, or relocating to a new area. Internal factors, like feelings of low self-worth, can also contribute to this isolation. Social isolation has been linked to an increase in suicidal thoughts and behaviors, making it a significant risk factor for suicide.

Environmental Factors – Community Risk Factors

These challenging issues within a person’s community contribute to risk:

  • Lack of access to healthcare
  • Suicide cluster in the community
  • Stress of assimilation to a different culture
  • Community violence
  • Historical trauma
  • Discrimination (race, gender, religion, social status, etc.)

Kenyan Situation

In Kenya, Section 226 of the Penal Code criminalizes suicide and is an offense as “any person who attempts to kill himself is guilty of a misdemeanor”. It is punishable by up to two years in prison, and/or a fine. Instead of receiving the understanding and support they urgently need, individuals face the prospect of legal consequences. In Kenya, there is growing alarm over a shocking rise in the number of suicides. According to the Kenya police report as researched by Ochieng (2021), four hundred and eighty-three people are reported to have killed themselves in the second quarter of 2021, more than the whole of 2020. The report shows that the youngest person to take their life was nine years old and the oldest seventy-six years. As per the report from the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR), there were more than 1,400 incidents of attempted suicide recorded from 2015 to 2018. Suicide and attempted suicide are still considered illegal in at least 23 countries worldwide. By removing legal barriers, we can create a more supportive environment for those struggling with mental health issues and ultimately reduce the incidence of behaviors that may lead to suicide. It is time to prioritize the well-being and safety of individuals over punitive measures that only serve to further stigmatize and harm those in need.

Reasons for Decriminalizing Suicide

  • Decriminalizing suicide is essential for reducing deaths by suicide. Criminalizing suicide does not prevent individuals from having suicidal thoughts; it only prevents them from seeking help in times of crisis. According to the World Health Assembly in 2019, all health ministers unanimously agreed that decriminalizing suicide is an effective strategy for preventing suicide.
  • When individuals who are struggling with suicidal thoughts are afraid of legal consequences, they are less likely to reach out for help. The fear of being arrested or facing criminal charges can act as a barrier to seeking mental health support. By decriminalizing suicide and removing the legal repercussions, individuals are more likely to seek help when they need it the most.
  • The World Health Organization’s Mental Health Action Plan for 2021-2030 recognizes the importance of decriminalizing suicide in reducing deaths by suicide. By shifting the focus from punishment to prevention and support, countries can create an environment where individuals feel safe and empowered to seek help when they are in crisis.
  • Decriminalizing suicide will be crucial in providing accessible mental health resources and support services. Investing in mental health education and awareness can help reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicidal thoughts (United for Global Mental Health, n.d.). By creating a supportive environment and promoting open discussions about mental health, individuals are more likely to seek help and receive the care they need.
  • Criminalizing suicide does not prevent individuals from acting on suicidal thoughts. It simply creates barriers to seeking help and support in times of crisis. Decriminalizing suicide is a vital step towards preventing suicide and promoting mental health and well-being.
  • The criminalization of suicide serves as a barrier to individuals seeking help, exacerbating the already present stigma surrounding mental health issues. This hindrance not only prevents timely intervention but also hampers efforts in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Active discussions within communities and increased access to mental health resources are vital in combating this issue and promoting overall well-being. Ultimately, addressing this barrier is crucial in creating a more supportive and inclusive environment for those struggling with mental health challenges.


Decriminalizing suicide attempts is essential to ensuring that individuals who are struggling with their mental health receive the support and help they need. By punishing suicide attempts, we are only further stigmatizing those who are already in a vulnerable state. When individuals are afraid to seek help because of the fear of legal repercussions, they are less likely to get the treatment and support they desperately need. Additionally, when suicide attempts are criminalized, deaths by suicide are often not accurately recorded as such. In many cases, these deaths are classified as accidental or of undetermined cause in order to avoid legal implications. This not only leads to a lack of accurate data on suicide rates, but it also hinders our ability to effectively prevent and intervene in suicidal behaviors.

By decriminalizing suicide attempts, we can create a more open and supportive environment for individuals who are struggling with mental health issues. It will provide them with the opportunity to seek help without the fear of facing legal consequences. This will ultimately lead to a reduction in the incidence of suicide attempts and deaths by suicide.


Muasa, W. (2022). Factors Contributing to Suicidal Behaviors among the Youths in Nyandarua Central in Nyandarua County, Kenya. International Journal of Research and Innovation in Social Science (IJRISS), Volume V(ISSN 2454-6186), 710.

Ochieng, O., & Kamau, L. (2021). CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF SECTION 226 OF KENYA PENAL CODE: A CASE FOR URGENT REFORM. International Journal of Law and Policy, 6(1), 28–40.

Schimelpfening, N. (2021, February 19). Why Do People Commit Suicide? Verywell Mind; Verywell Mind.

Suicide & Suicidal Behavior. (1989). Anthropology News, 30(2), 19–19.

United for Global Mental Health. (n.d.). Suicide Decriminalisation. United for Global Mental Health.

World Health Organization. (2023). WHO EMRO | Suicide | Health topics. World Health Organization – Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean.

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