Sparking a Mental Health Revolution in Africa through an Academy - Part 1 (The Status Quo)

April 04, 2018

Pic by Emily Johnson for a piece on PRI, March 2015.
This was my first office space - a refurbished hair salon in Ngong (my team and I moved here from my living room when people reaching us through my mental health support line started asking for face to face consultations)

Sparking a mental health revolution in Africa through an Academy’ is a 3 part series through which I aim to share why I feel we need a mental health revolution in Africa, how to spark one and what I am doing in my corner. Read through Part 1 - The Status Quo, Part 2 - How to do it and Part 3 - The Academy to get the full picture. I am looking forward to your thoughts via email or in the comments section after each post. Also share the series with your networks...and remember, as long as you have a mind, you are a stakeholder therefore a much needed ally in this revolution. 

Mental Health in Africa
The systemic issues in the mental health space in Africa call for a revolution by those living with mental health conditions and families as well as those working in the space either directly or as stakeholders. This Academy is my way of sparking that much needed revolution ~ Sitawa Wafula, Founder The Mental Health Academy

When it comes to mental health, most people in Africa will quickly point out witchcraft, curses or say that these people are paying for things done either in the physical or spiritual. This societal ignorance about mental health and its diagnosis leads to constant rejection, discrimination, abuse – both sexual and emotional and exclusion of people with mental health conditions.

Treatment options range from harmful procedures as seen in countries like Somalia where people with mental health conditions are locked up with hyenas which are believed to have the ability to sniff out the spirits making them mentally ill, or shackled at their ankles when going through 'deliverance services' as done in prayer camps in West Africa. Public medical treatment centres are overstretched, with most being overcrowded, underfunded and understaffed while private ones are too expensive for many members of this population.

In early June 2017, The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Dainius Pūras, after presenting his latest report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and pointed out that;
Mental health is grossly neglected within health systems around the world. Where mental health systems exist, they often are segregated from other healthcare and adhere to outdated practices that violate human rights. He went on to call for a revolution in mental health care to end decades of neglect, abuse and violence.

A little about me
When I was 17 years old, I was diagnosised with epilepsy, at 18 when I was about to get into University to study Actuarial Science, i was sexually assaulted. I only lasted 2 years in Uni before dropping out due to the psychological effects of the assault (the unchecked trauma was later diagnosed as bipolar).  I later got a job which I was fired from after having a seizure at the work place. I got really depressed to the point of feeling suicidal.

I started journaling and writing poetry as a way of release (even ended up started a poetry night in Nairobi and Nakuru) and started a blog -  My Mind, My Funk - that quickly morphed from a personal online journal to being a source of information, inspiration and support; providing people in Africa with information and support (the blog went on to win a Google Award for its consistency in speaking about things considered to be taboo in Africa)

Having ran a Google Award Winning Blog for almost 8 yearsset up Kenya’s first free mental health support line  (that got over 25,000 texts in its one year of existence and supporting over 11,000 people with information and linkages to support groups, psychologists and psychiatrists) and using my personal journey to bring mental health conversations to the forefront in Africa, I consolidated my wealth of knowledge and expertise as well as lessons that led to my healing from a dual diagnosis of epilepsy and bipolar to start The Mental Health Academy where I am now mentoring the next generation of mental health champions.
Watch my TED Talk here 
Watch my UN General Assembly Showcase organized by The MOTH here  
Watch one of ‘crowd fav’ poems - A little more 
Watch my living with epilepsy series here

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