Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe recently revealed that one in every 10 Kenyans suffers from a mental disorder and further expressed concerns over the rising cases of suicide.
He also described depression as “a silent, invisible killer that is affecting our nation and the globe.”
With mental health concerns growing with each passing day, three young Kenyans shared their mental health stories, what they did to cope and why it is crucial to speak out when one is going through a dark period.
Bill Ruthi-Writer and photographer
One of my favourite uncles committed suicide when I was eight years old. I once attempted suicide when I was 14. It wasn’t really connected to my uncle’s death, but I remember thinking, I want be with him.
Many years later, I was diagnosed with a mild strain of anxiety disorder. It unspooled after a failed marriage – my wife left with our daughter. There were nights when this tape of my sad life would play out on repeat, highlighting my shortcomings and my inability to keep my family together. I remember thinking, is this all there is to life?
One day in 2017, I sat down and wrote my “will”. My nephew who loves photography would have my camera, my laptop would go to my daughter, and the family album would go to my wife. I had the end figured out – a handful of pills.
It was my eldest sister, who lives in Qatar, who noticed that something was wrong and called. Through her support, I was able to pull through.
What is incongruous is that at the time, I was writing a lot, yet there was this really deep emptiness inside me. I sat and said, okay, I got a few stories I have planned to write, and I want to tell them. Then I got on the road and kept wiping out the fog. I remember listening endlessly to Mike Passenger’s song, Holes.
I did not go for any counselling session but I was determined to get well. I went outdoors. I wrote more. Now, the weight is off my shoulders.
Advice: Seek help from family or people you trust. Above all else, your own will to overcome your situation must be unshakable.
Wandia Kagema-Office admin and humanitarian
I have struggled for long with low self-esteem and inferiority complex that stem from years of battling acne. I was so obsessed with how my face looked and to make it “beautiful” I went for over the counter creams.
I used so many of these beauty creams that the acne became worse, and I became a soft target for bullies. Then I got a chance to travel abroad. When I returned, I instantly became popular in my neighbourhood! Everyone wanted to be associated with me. It made me feel good and it helped erase my insecurities.
I wish my parents had affirmed me and told me that I was beautiful when they saw how troubled I was. I wouldn’t have gone to such extreme lengths just to seek validation. I became a rebel, got several tattoos and tens of piercings.
My final awakening call came after some of my friends were killed because of crime. I came home late that night and received a few slaps from my father, after which he chased me away. I could have gone to one of my friend’s place but I begged my dad to let me stay.
After that, I disassociated myself with the bad company, went for counseling, and became more spiritual. I know that I may not be beautiful and I am okay with that because we are all unique.
Advice: Talk. When you speak out, you realise that some of the thoughts you have been harbouring are not even real.
My battle with depression began manifesting as periods of inactivity. I was simply unable to write, yet I am a journalist and writing is my primary source of livelihood. Sometimes I would stare at the computer for hours without typing a single letter, or I would stay indoors with the doors and windows closed and the curtains drawn.
It was such a dark period. I felt like I had nothing to live for. I thought about quitting my job, and twice about taking my own life. The more I entertained these thoughts the deeper I sunk into depression. I kept away from my colleagues and family members. Most people did not know what I was going through and I did talk about it.
“What will people say?” I thought. I was a health journalist. I was expected to be knowledgeable about mental health. I was supposed to know how to take care of myself. In May 2019, I decided to seek help. The human resources officers at my workplace referred me to a counselor and I attended six therapy sessions.
The psychologist and I tried to get to the root of the problem. One of the things we discovered was that there were a set of triggers that caused my depression. I learnt to recognise them, and how to handle them.
With a lot of determination, I managed to get out of my depressive state. I still have my moments, only that I can now respond better to the issues, and even talk about them. If I had remained silent, I am almost sure that I wouldn’t be alive today.
Advice: We all need a shoulder to lean on. Reach out and speak out to somebody. Not everyone will understand your situation, but don’t give up. Help is at hand. You don’t have to lose the battle.