12:04:00 AM

Kenya's female boxer Conjestina Achieng'(in white) in action
This weekend had a rare spectacle, CNN WORLD'S UNTOLD STORIES, LOCKED UP AND FORGOTTEN, a feature on Mental Illnesses in Kenya thanks to one McKenzie who I have to commend for shedding light on the situation of Person's with Mental Illnesses and more so bringing the story home to the Kenyan people, though it has always been there. Funny how many people were quick to ask what is being done using all the words in their dictionaries to point fingers, stressing their disgust and the shame they feel to be associated with Kenya. If you feel ashamed to be Kenyan because of what you saw, am sorry for you.

This is a two-way traffic, you are either part of the problem or part of the solution.
Part of the problem
We are people easy to forget for a few short weeks ago, we made fun of Conjestina and her admission to Mathari Hosp, we updated our social media status, saw it as a smashing blog post hell we googled blogs just to be part of the convo by commenting left, right and centre. I would like us to play hypothetical for a moment, so with the images you saw on the feature, think of Conjestina in Mathari, the place you saw on CNN, the same one people pay to have family they cant deal with because of ignorance and lack of information, think about her when she comes out, world's no.5 female boxer with almost nothing left since you had a hahafest over what some of her pride yet you have never paid a single cent to watch her play, to see her put Kenya on the boxing map. Chances are if no intervention is taken, she will slip into a village where her ancestors once hailed, a place where people will be too busy running around chasing the wind we call life to stay home with her but since they love her and are scared to leave her in the house alone, chances are, they will lock her up, for her own safety they will say hypothetically speaking.  But that is story of so many Kenyans, the Kenyans you saw, Kenyans who made you ashamed to be Kenyan, Kenyans tied and chained on trees or beds, I am not trying to justify anyone or anything for I believe that every one has a right to life, to good health, a right not to be locked up or tied to tree, but get this how many taxi people will want to carry someone who will jump all over the car, how many district hospitals want to deal with 'hao watu' and the cost of medication. My seizures get very violent and most times when it came to taking me to hospital, I had to get jabbed, yes jabbed, injecting is too mild a term compared to the kicks and blows I throw,to be shipped to hospital and these are if am allowed to say, luxuries I get because of having a family that has gone out of its way to understand my illness, to overcome all those theories and myths about wronging God et al, remember the lady in the feature who said that she thinks she has wronged God? They need to be educated, enlightened, informed. That is someone's relative, someone who knowingly but with short-time memory or unknowingly fanned and funded the Conjestina hahafest.

We are still playing hypothetical and I want you to see two dots that I joined that the feature did not particularly feature, I want you to retrace the man you saw locked up and for a moment replace him with a woman, think of her locked up and isolated, think of her as a human, lets call her Rose, developing breasts and hips yes I want you to think along that line, next time before you ask how 'mad women' get pregnant now you know and while you are there, think of the next stage of human development female speaking, what happens when she is on their periods, are they like the ones I mentioned when initiating my sanitary towel raising campaign, girls in North Eastern Kenya who sit in holes all day for the duration of their mensis? Unlike those who I support, those from disadvantaged background as I call them, those who turn to sex work to raise money, what do these ones do? I think they are from disadvantaged backgrounds too because their families lack too, they lack the information and they need education. Unfortunately my hypothetical speak is what is happening on ground for many people, what are you doing about it? Well you did not know until you saw the feature that why you asked what we are doing about it, well I will take you through mental health in Kenya, a matter that shelved for far too long. I will start with some of the reasons you hear nothing and efforts on ground seem like punching a wall;

1. Governance 
Before you say, yes lets blame the government, it is the best scapegoat, hear this out. As much as every Minister of Health has acknowledged that Mental Health goes hand in hand with physical and social health,  they have very little to see that mental health actually go hand in hand with physical and social health, guess they feel they have done mental health a great service by acknowledging it and once they state how they believe Mathari Hosp deserves a name change when marking World Mental Health Day celebrations they are done for until the next year and we crazy people should thank God that the minister ackowledged something and came through for the celebration. But we are tired of words, because words can only do so much, when you sit in your living room and feel that disgust and update your status and you are done for you are no different from that Minister for you too have a voice, how are you using it? We want action and the best act will be to give us a policy, we have an Act that was done in 1989 and there are no frameworks or checks and balances systems so one cannot tell if what was put to paper is working and every place you spot a hole, they say there is no money to work it out.
2. Budgetary allocation 
The reason why HIV/AIDS, TB et al became spotlight diseases and major campaigns rolled out are because of budgetary allocations, the government became involved and saw it fit to dedicate funds and human resource to them, they made special wings, trained people, bought drugs et al. We are not asking for special treatment, we want treatment that is due to us.Mental Health gets a meagre percentage of the Health budget, medicines are not readily available in your district hosp so families have to go to provincial hosp.  which require many to ride a matatu or board a taxi which is drama on its own incase the PMI  gets a trigger. I have my poetry happening, I have my events planning and a supportive family and through all these I still miss medicine because they get too bloody expensive and sometime my body develops sickness only known to itself calling for enough hospital visits which aren't free passes. So get insurance you say, well last time I was admitted, my insurance cover did not pay for my bills and gave alot of jargon  to support it's action, I have never gone bad, but thats just me bet things have changed from then, hope they have for the better. My diet also gets crazy and am counting myself among the lucky ones.  Research is key, and since funds are scarce, most of the research is either thesis by Dept of Psychiatry or the groundwork NGOs do to further their activities.
3. Stigma 
Many health workers shun away from dealing with Persons with Mental Illnesses due to the labels they get, poor pay among many other reasons. If a person associating themselves with a PMI has sleepless nights, imagine how bad it is for the PMI? A lot of people feel people do not understand what they are going through, and thanks to imaginary codes that society expects us to live by and a strive to be seen as 'normal' many continue to kill themselves day in, day out and the best we can do is isolate them, label them, talk about their newly acquired laziness, if you were informed, you would know that all these are signs of something to come and you can save someone from short circuiting. We see all these signs in our families, in school, at our places of work but we tell ourselves that we don't need people dragging us behind in out fold and leave them to shape up or be shipped out. I have male friends who because of stigma are suffering and cannot share yet they are trying to be the perfect responsible sons their families and society wants them to be.
It is very unfortunate that CNN is the one that had to drill this home but hey if that is what it takes to rattle snakes, God let Aljazeera, BBC, SKY et al do features on the same. If take time to look at things, you can agree with this,We all know someone who has been taken to Mathari or walks the streets throwing stones and undressing, we can tell life stories either first hand or as a recollection of a version we heard so why should be wait for another news agency tell us about our house?

Part of the solution
1. Awareness Creation
Now that CNN has made the first move on the board, I would love to see all local stations work on the sequel,go to the communities that the few NGOs dealing with Mental Health are working with, see the progress made and report on it. They should highlight Mathari hosp before, now, the expectations plus the challenges faced and strides made, I know for one staff is an issue but also know that the government of Japan chipped in (allow me to point out that there is Gilgil Hosp that should offer the same services Mathari offers-guess its a case of governance and budgetary allocations, well investigative journalists go figure that out). 

We have a youth-led campaign, One Mind Lend your Voice which I admin (follow on twitter @onemindke) launched during last year's World Mental Health Day celebrations and among our major agendas are to push for a mental health policy and to create awareness about mental health, signs, symptoms and general facts about mental illnesses to the public esp the youth.

We need ideas, suggestions and human resource to see the campaign achieve its mandate. So far we have a core team of 30 each serving in a department. We have done University outreaches, last one was to Kimathi University and are still in the process of doing more, we are creating alliances with youth groups to reach as many youth as possible and have them lend their voice, we have a video out, Call me by my name and a single that we need to up our media contacts for and have them played. Holla if you can stem this up and I sure as hell have gone mental in all sense of the word on my social media networks and appreciate all those who directed their views about the feature to me, shows my posts are not in vain.

2. Petition
We have a petition out to put pressure on the duty bearers to work on the petition. In Nyeri when we had an Outreach to Kimathi University, I had a chance to speak with the Ass PS for Medical Services after he addressed my speech at a medical camp about the policy and he assured us that stakeholders are working hard to see the policy out and aligned with the new constitution. We still need to push and push until we see the document. Read post I did about the petition, One Million for Mental Health, please help
PS: Anyone who can do an online petition should contact me asap.

3. Join our campaign

As earlier mentioned, we have a youth led campaign and we need as many voices as possible, dedicate some of your tweets to the campaign, like and suggest our video, request for the song, hell have it as a ringtone, do flyers, posters or you-tube clips for us just to spread word and create awareness;people perish because of lack of knowledge, fund our trips, give us venues to do awareness creation events, write articles. Be part of the campaign in your sphere, we need loads of ripple effects.

4. Show love, show care, show support
Lets reduce the stigma, get informed, come to our sessions and field visits and get to see the work being done, experience the joys and pains of the PMIs and their families.

Lastly ask yourself, what part are you on; the problem or solution part? then send me your comments , suggestions and ideas, xxxx

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  1. :-( true its saddening.Sitawa i seriously want to lend help in whatever way i can,as a poet,as a student,as a willing to get down on the ground to bring change to the PMI scenario in our communities...

  2. hey dear, you can start by hyping the campaign, get a petition form from me and help us get as many signatures as possible to push the government to speed up the process of making a Mental Health Policy and enacting it.