‘Mental Health: Unveiling the Mask,’ at Alupe University College, Busia, Kenya

On October 11th this year, #mymindourhumanity campaign was in Alupe University College, Busia, Kenya for Mental Health-Unveiling the mask event. The theme for this Year’s WORLD MENTAL HEALTH DAY was SUICIDE PREVENTION. The event was spearheaded by Damian, a Young Leader representing the Lancet Commission on Global Mental Health in Kenya and Laura Wairimu, a mental health advocate both fourth year medical Psychology students at Moi University.  Dean of Students Dr. Genevieve and Caroline Ombok, a clinical psychologist and lecturer at the university, were at the background of all the arrangements.

The event started with remarks from the Dean of Students at Alupe University, Prof Genevieve Nasimiyu.  She highlighted the high and rising cases of suicides in colleges and universities as a problem that should be addressed sooner rather than later. She cited evidence of too much pressure and young people having no one to turn to whenever they feel overwhelmed as some of the contributing factors that precipitate suicidal behaviours. Dr. Edith Kwoba, a Psychiatrist at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital was our guest speaker. She talked about mental illnesses as a whole, from definition, contributing factors to management. She explained that help is available and young people shouldn’t be afraid to seek it. She shared how alcohol and substance use not only reduces productivity among young people, but also how it is highly linked to actual health risks including psychosis.

Abel, a registered nurse and mental health survivor shared his experience on how he started abusing morphine and how the addiction ended his job. He emphasized the importance of seeking help, sharing his example of his therapist, who helps him deal with his condition, as well as the importance of talking to the right person. Diana, a first year student with disability (Alupe University) and a three-time suicide attempt survivor shared her heartbreaking but inspiring story which left the entire audience astounded. One couldn’t believe she was going through what she was saying. She survived it all, she was our hero. Lastly, Michelle Akinyi, a second year student  (Moi University)  living with Bipolar Disorder, shared her overwhelming experience – her challenging mental health condition, coupled with the fact that she lives with parents who do not understand her condition, nor how to support her through her struggles.

An account of the day wouldn’t be complete without discussion of the art that followed the formal talks. First, a poem by brianpoetry that majorly focused on depression set us off. The choice of words to fit the Kenyan context was unimaginable! Samkid used a poem to show a simple context of what anxiety means to him. Bernard and Johnstone thought deep about the rising cases of suicide in our universities and presented a poetic piece titled suicidalthoughts. The psychdramaclub from Alupe University were outstanding, portraying the struggles of a typical Kenyan university student that might easily lead to depression and suicide.

I talked to them about @mymindourhumanity: who we are, the work we do, why our focus is on young people’s mental health and of the online campaigns that we have had including the current event, #musicfestival which was launched on the World Mental Health Day. I encouraged them to participate and follow us on our social media accounts. The event concluded with the winning poem (from our #poetryfestival where there were more than 850 submissions) presentation by Michelle, a 3rd year student from Alupe University and a take home message from Dr. Caroline Ombok. Across the day, we shared our message with 154 young students who joined us.

The event was amazing! We are grateful to everyone who made it a success. Young people are yearning to know more about mental health. Let’s reach out to them because they are the future.

Dr Caroline Ombok

Words: Damian Juma

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