My Story – I Rescue Mentally ill People from the Streets

May 31, 2021

Mary Wachira, 55, has made it her humanitarian mission to rescue mentally ill people from the streets.

She shares her story via Saturday Magazine.


“There is nothing that disheartens me other than walking the town streets and meeting mentally ill people that are neglected. I feel joyful taking them off the streets, having them treated, and reintegrating them with their families. That has been my mission for the last ten years.

I was born 55 years ago in Nakuru and since the year 2000, I have been a passionate human rights defender, peacebuilder, and conflict management, reconciler. I’m also a Catholic Justice and Peace Commissioner involved in volunteering and offering charitable services to most vulnerable persons with special needs especially those with mental disorders and those affected with substance use.

The drive

What drove me to target this group of vulnerable people is because they are not aware of themselves yet they suffer a lot. They are human beings and deserve human dignity like the rest of us. A question that bothered me was what I had done differently to deserve sanity of mind than this suffering lot? The answer has always been nothing, and it’s only by grace and mercy of God.

I also discovered when these people are taken for treatment and rehabilitation; they regain their senses and live a normal life. And this serves as an inspiration.

It has not been easy dealing with people with mental issues as I’m all alone but my zeal and boldness have made me work with policemen, health officers, and well-wishers in this mission. I don’t approach any mentally unstable person I see walking the street without first checking where they reside –some have made dumpsites, trenches, or particular places like backstreets their habitats. I then get the police to transport and check them into the hospital for treatment.

Get them back

Treatment involves admission, and after discharge, I interrogate them to know their relatives and the process of reintegrating them with their families or relatives. In case they may not be accepted back by their families or are unsuccessful in going back, I look for well-wishers who are willing to support them while I provide them basic needs—food, clothing, and shelter. In some situations, I accommodate some, and I’m currently about ten.

It is not always smooth going as there are lots of challenges as well as joys. Sometimes I may not get the assistance I’m looking for when I have a case that I need to take to the hospital and I’m forced to look for alternatives as a solution.

Take for example when I need the police help to handle a mental case. Some of the mentally ill are violent. You can’t dialogue with a person who may not understand even their surroundings. When the police fail to show up to help capture or render the needed assistance like transport, I have to hire young men to do the ‘arresting’ and look for private means to the hospital. And at the hospital, I may not get a waiver even under the neediest of situations. No waiver means no admission, only a jab, and the patient returns to the streets. This is disheartening as they do not heal. It is costly treating mental illness and this could be a reason many don’t care about their mentally sick family members and abandon them.

Success missions

Success stories abound despite the challenges. Examples are where these mental cases respond to treatments, fully recover, and start relying on themselves. A recent example is where a mentally challenged male was admitted to Gilgil Mathari Mental Hospital and is now able to earn a living for himself. I can say assisting an insane person to get to his normal life is like coming back to life.

Some people usually have misconceptions that mental issues are a result of dark forces like witchcraft, curses, genetics, and drug abuse. This is usually not the case. A mental disorder is an illness and not necessarily a drug and substance-related issue as many erroneously think.

There are several underlying factors leading to mental situations like depression, poverty, loss of a parent or relative, untreated early cerebral diseases, untreated venereal and dipolar conditions, abandonment, conflict in families to name just a few.

The stigmatisation of mentally challenged people or families with mentally ill members is what makes it difficult to address the issue. No wonder even after successful treatment, some families refuse to accept their kin back because they are embarrassed to be associated with the person. It’s no wonder that mental facilities are littered with patients that have been abandoned for a long time.

For those affected by drugs and substance abuse, I refer them to rehabilitation centers and many have made recoveries and can lead decent lives.

I cannot rest easy until the streets are empty of mentally ill people. While this would be an accomplishment, I cannot rest easy as there are many people silently undergoing mental issues and hardly seeking treatment. The number is on the rise. The mentally sick are not only in the streets but within us as well.”

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