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Watching '13 Reasons Why' as a Suicidal Male in Africa

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It couldn’t have been more contrasting.

It’s 2017, but I am aware that most of those outside this continent think it’s a country. So, for the sake of telling this story, let me just call it Africa. For those of you who are more knowledgeable, as a result of traveling, reading or having some interest in starting the next Uber over here, I am specifically from Kenya.

That is as African as they come. Not South Africa, with its partial British leanings. Not the Arabian Maghreb with its Middle Eastern associations. Sub-Saharan Africa, smack in the middle! Equator Africa.

And yes, we do have access to Netflix.

Now, this is a country, just like any other in the world, that celebrates its strengths and frowns at the troubles that plague it. I would go so far as to say it ignores them. Among the things it ignores are the suicides. In my experience, mental illness is understood only as the state of going mad. This is in no way easier though; the alternatives are rumors about witchcraft, being tied up in chains for decades or discarded in a government hospital. It is the worst condemnation.

Which makes me, a clinically depressed 24-year-old male in Africa with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the most interesting source for a different perspective on the hit Netflix show.

I once came across the book some years back, but knew better than to read it, as I feared it might trigger the urge. But when the show came out, I thought, why not? If it gets bad, I can just turn it off! It turns out there was nothing to fear. While I can relate to the main character’s sadness and thought process, the society is very different from what my experience has taken me through. It looked a tad better. Parents were petitioning the school, and people were advocating for a change in their community. This was unbelievable.


For starters, depression is not understood over here like it was on that fictional show. People get depressed due to various causes and this, more often than not, leads to suicide. But what you get here is a scenario where society directly associates the source of the suicide as the cause. Not the trigger. What I mean is, no one ever talks about the mental effect that the trigger had. It is actually assumed that if the victim had used his head to think, then he wouldn’t have died by suicide. It is not a mental issue for them.

Two, it is a sign of weakness. We have been conditioned to think that dying by suicide means throwing in the towel. While on “13 Reasons Why,”people sympathized with the family, in Kenya it becomes a scar. People find alternative routes to the market to avoid passing by the house of the suicide victim. In my native culture, as in several others, a suicide victim is not accorded a proper funeral. Rather, they are buried at 12 a.m. without any funeral service and without a headstone or epitaph.

Third, how fast one loses friends! And this has been a personal experience. The second fastest way to lose friends apart from your HIV+ status going public is to “come out” as being depressed. No one wants to be associated with a dying person. Yes, you read that right. Mention your depression and your fate is sealed. Some hang around for some time to make sure that you don’t die while they are still associated with you, then once you feel a little better, they create distance.

Fourth, there are no support systems that offer any hope to suicidal people. Psychiatrists can only be found in top dollar hospitals. And of course they charge top dollar. I was on medication at some point and one capsule used to cost me $1. In a country where almost half the population lives on less than a dollar a day, I was required to take four pills a day.

Counselors advise you to smile more, the religiously inclined ones recommend prayer and exorcism.

The government doesn’t make it any easier. A suicide attempt can cost you up to two years in prison or a fine, or both. You will make it to the evening news and your story will be featured in the next day’s national paper. In no way will it be a sympathetic story by the media. Your story will be linked on social media for the fun of it.

Sexual assaults are only prosecuted after there has been outcry from the community. Otherwise the perpetrators walk around free. And even these mostly favor preteen girls. So how can I even claim that I was sexually assaulted when I was younger and this resulted in my PTSD and anxiety? How? You are a guy, how could you have let that happen? You must be a sissy. No one should date you; actually, your status as a man has been violated.

And so I walk around with all this in my head. I’ve attempted suicide twice before. I stopped making friends due to the repetition. At some point someone finds out how messed up you really are and they start behaving strangely. So you let them go and start again. I stopped dating after my ex told me I am unlike other guys. I stopped a lot of things because they always stop themselves, eventually.

I report to work and I have a savings account. Sometimes I dream about saving enough to travel far enough to escape all this.

But I am alive today. I will tell this story today while I still can.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

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Thinkstock photo via Getty Images

Originally published: July 25, 2017
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