A depressed post-graduate medical student at the University of Nairobi committed suicide inside her car by injecting herself with anaesthesia-inducing drugs on Saturday afternoon at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) parking lot.
The death of Dr Lydia Wahura Kanyoro brings to fore the rising cases of depression and personal health problems among medical students and doctors in the country.
Kanyoro 35, was a postgraduate in Paediatrics student at the UoN’s School of Medicine at KNH is said to have written a suicide note and called some of her relatives and told them where she was and what she had planned to do, before committing suicide.
Police however declined to disclose the contents of the suicide note.
The head of security at the School of Medicine, George Onyango, reported that he spotted the body at the back seat of the deceased car, a Mazda Verisa, within the hospital’s parking lot on Saturday at 1 pm.
The body was immediately identified and the officials alerted officers from the Capitol Hill police station.
Officers visited the scene and recovered three syringes, a vial (small glass) of Ketamine, a drug used in inducing anaesthesia, and midazolam drugs, also used for inducing anaesthesia and sleepiness and to decrease anxiety.
“She was lying at the back seat and had injected a syringe on her left arm. Also found inside the car were vials of Ketamine and midazolam drugs,” police said.
The deceased left behind a suicide noted, printed from an email dated June 12 at 9 am, that detailed why she decided to commit suicide. Reports indicate that so many medical staff are suffering from depression and other mental related illness, a fact that experts have attributed to the tough working conditions among other things.
“Such cases have increased but remain largely underreported, especially among the Masters students,” a source at KNH told People Daily.
“The work load and academic demands for some of the doctors pursuing further studies is sometimes unbearable. Medicine is very taught and challenging and the sad thing is that doctors know what to take to easily end their lives,” the source added.
A friend to the deceased, Carol Nthiwa, yesterday said there was a serious case of mental health for doctors especially those in training.
“RIP Wahura Kanyoro, one day I will get the courage to tell my story, how I suffered on the hands of some women I worked with. It was the hardest time of my life, resigning in the middle of a pandemic,” she wrote.
Colleagues said they undergo a lot of stress while in training.
“I don't think it is worth it. The stress takes a toll on our bodies and we only realize that when we get chronic illnesses in our 50s.We need to take life less seriously, take it easy. The stress we get is not worth it,” another doctor said.
A friend, Cleophas Mutua, eulogised Dr Kanyoro as the most courageous person, terming her ‘a light and a gem to all who knew her.’
“She was a dedicated doctor and a fierce advocate for her patients. We are heartbroken that she is no longer with us but we choose to celebrate her and who she was. Wahura, thank you for fighting for so long,” the colleague wrote.
Another colleague said the emphasis in most schools was on physical stamina and mental toughness. “This leads to a normalisation of high levels of stress, sleep deprivation, excessively long workdays and a lack of free time to spend with family or friends,” she said.
She added that doctors faced anxiety stemming from crushing levels of expected overachievement, poorly designed infrastructure at the workplace, administrative burdens, and unsupportive government.
“Overworking to make ends meet and a host of other stress-inducing factors, plus the added strain that comes with raising children and other responsibilities in the home for some who support families exacerbates the situation,” another doctor said.
The stress, according to some doctors is also due to the fact that doctors are taught not to always complain. “The bullying culture that is also deep rooted in the training system,” she said.
Doctors have been advised to be vigilant for the signs of depression within themselves and their colleagues.
“We must not hesitate to seek help when we recognise something is amiss. Doctors have resilience and self-reliance in abundance, but when we rely on those traits above all others, we put our own well-being and that of our patients at risk,” the deceased’s colleague said yesterday.
The body was transferred to Chiromo mortuary and the post-mortem is expected to be conducted today.
Though preliminary investigations show it was a case of suicide, the Kilimani Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) boss said they will conduct a thorough probe into the death, and not assume anything.
“Any preconceived theories or notions can be very dangerous in such investigations. We will keep an open mind not to be influenced by initial reports or presentation in the crime scene,” the DCI boss said.