• The Health Ministry has acknowledged that despite the burden of mental illness being high, negative attitudes from society have prevented many from seeking timely care.
• This has been witnessed in too many suicide cases that have been recorded in the country in the recent past across all sectors.
11-year-old scales Mt Kenya in mental health awareness
Each passing day, at least one in every four Kenyans is battling mental health issues, most times in silence for fear of being judged or isolated.
To break the barriers and encourage those undergoing mental health breakdowns to speak up, a lot of advocates have joined the government in raising awareness.
The Ministry of Health has acknowledged that despite the burden of mental illness being high in the country, negative attitudes from society have prevented many from seeking timely care.
This has been witnessed in too many suicide cases that have been recorded in the country in the recent past across all sectors, including among young people.
In the latest move, an 11-year-old chess enthusiast joined a team of mental health campaigners who scaled Mt Kenya to create awareness about mental health.
Christian Mugambi’s main goal is to create mental health awareness among children and the youth.
Mugambi is an ambassador for Mindful Kenya's "Mindful for Schools" programme that entails screening children for mental health and offering the required treatment.
For him, climbing Mt Kenya is not just a physical challenge but a metaphorical climb, highlighting the need for mental health awareness and support in educational settings.
He sees it as a call to action for schools and communities to prioritize mental wellness and provide support for the youth navigating these crucial aspects of their lives.
Christian likens mental health to his favorite sport, chess.
“In chess, every piece is important, just like every person’s mental health. Sometimes, feeling sad or scared is like a tough chess game. But every game has a way to win, we just need to find it,” he explains.
“When I play chess, I carefully plan my moves to win. It is the same with mental health, we need a plan to be better."
The more than 50 first-time hikers on an expedition to scale Mt Kenya were led by Econnect Africa's Director Markben Oluchiri.
For them, the symbolic journey, part of the "Raise Your Flag" movement is not just about conquering a physical summit but represents the personal mountains people face in their mental health struggles.
Each participant carries a story, a personal testimony that sheds light on the mental health challenges faced by different groups in society.
"We have our mountains to climb and overcome. These stories are not just personal; they resonate with a wider audience, offering hope and a sense of solidarity,” Oluchiri says.
Andrew Lomosi, the Director of Trisol Engineering and who has been vocal in championing mental well-being in the energy sector also joined in the hike.
His presence highlights the often-overlooked mental health challenges in technically demanding fields.
"We're here to show that mental health is a universal concern, transcending all professional boundaries," Lomosi says.
The managing partner of Thalia Psychotherapy Dennis Mwangi and the COO of Mindful Kenya Mercy Mwende are also part of this trailblazing group.
They are accompanied by five mental health professionals representing various specialties.
"Each of us, regardless of our expertise in mental health, has our battles. This climb is a testament to our shared human experience," Mwangi shares.
Representatives from the police force and healthcare workers are also part of the climb, symbolizing the mental health challenges in these high-stress professions.
"In our line of work, showing vulnerability is often seen as a weakness. But today, as we climb, we show that acknowledging our mental health is our strength," the police officer says.
To them, the hike is more than a physical endeavor; it is a powerful statement on the importance of mental health.
It is about breaking down the stigma and fostering a culture of openness and support.
The initiative aims to inspire conversations, encourage empathy, and promote understanding, paving the way for a world where mental health is as prioritized as physical health.
As these individuals ascend Mt. Kenya, they carry with them a message of resilience, hope, and the importance of mental health awareness.
According to PS Medical Services Harry Kimtai, mental illnesses in the country is a significant cause of morbidity.
It is estimated that 25 per cent of outpatients and up to 40 per cent of in-patients suffer from mental conditions.
“This situation is compounded by the pervasive culture of denial, silence and stigma that surrounds mental health,” Kimtai said at a past event.
“Many of us erroneously ascribe mental illness to curses, evil spirits, or witchcraft. Persons with mental illnesses are often ostracized, stereotyped, feared, or shunned by society,” he noted.
Kenya is in the process of implementing the WHO Quality Rights initiative as part of reorienting the country’s mental health services by adopting a human-rights-based approach.
WHO's Quality Rights initiative aims to improve the quality of care in mental health and related services and to promote the rights of people with psychosocial, intellectual and cognitive disabilities.