• Collaboration of MADCA, Kemri Welcome Trust, Documentary Institute of Eastern Africa and funded by Welcome Trust Public Engagement Fund.
• Kemri Welcome Trust official says there has been an increase in cases of mental illness in the county which has often led to discrimination and stigma in families.
A campaign to raise awareness on mental health in Kilifi county has begun following rampant stigma and discrimination against those affected.
The one-week campaign dubbed 'Difu Simo' - Giriama for breaking free - is a collaboration of Malindi District Cultural Association, Kenya Medical Research Institute, Welcome Trust, Documentary Institute of Eastern Africa, and is funded by the Welcome Trust Public Engagement Fund.
It was officially launched at the Gede trading centre and brought together stakeholders from the scientific research field, film making industry, art industry and experts in the culture and traditions of the Mijikenda community to tackle stigma in mental illness.
Organisers are using participatory approaches such as films and art in the form of music, dance and poems to create spaces for dialogue between traditional health practitioners and biomedical practitioners who are both custodians of healthcare information in the community and they can play a key role in demystifying myths surrounding mental illness and in encouraging people with these disorders to seek care.
At the Gede trading centre, local art - both youth and traditional songs - was composed, with messages against stigmatising mental health or discrimination.
Artists and other performers braved heavy rain to showcase their talent, attracting a huge crowd. Several people with mental illness attended.
Kemri Welcome Trust Kilifi project's principal investigator and researcher Mary Bitta said there has been an increase in cases of mental illness in the county which has often led to discrimination and stigma in families.
She said as a result, some of the victims often commit suicide following depression as they feel isolated by society.
Bitta aid the majority of those suffering mental illness do not seek medication in hospital and resort to traditional treatments.
"We decided to stop waiting for the patients to come to the hospital but begin sensitising them in the community and listen to them so that they can get assistance," she said.
She said the one-year programme will enable them to go to different areas adding that this week they will be in Gede, Mida, Matsangoni, Chumani, Tezo, Mtondia and Karisa Maitha Grounds on Sunday.
Bitta said research has revealed that Kilifi has so many cases of suicide which is caused by depression as people do not seek medical attention.
She said people believe in traditional witchdoctors because they have time to talk to their patients and also do not necessarily need to be paid cash unlike in hospitals.
That, she said, has made them begin working with the traditional herbalists so that together they can provide a solution.
MADCA Secretary-General Joseph Mwarandu appealed to residents to take mentally-ill patients to the hospital instead of hiding them at homes.
He also told the community members to stop believing that mental illness is caused by witchcraft.
"We are going around Kilifi county to inform members of the public that there is a disaster of mental illness, people with mental health problems are many and they have been sidelined," he said.
He said they want the public to know that whenever there is a case it should be brought out instead of chaining them or locking them in houses.
"They are our brothers and sisters, mothers, uncles fathers and we need to recognise them and help them get treatment o that they can be cured," he said.
Statistics indicate that globally one in every four people has a mental health illness condition.
Nancy Kipkemoi, a Mombasa resident, said there has been a tendency of getting patients who have suffered for many years.
She said the project was key in helping to reach out to the community for patients to get treatment early and go back to build society. Kipkemoi said there is a lack of information about mental health treatment that's why people resort to witchdoctors.
“We want to create awareness about mental health illness so that people know it's a disease. If this is done, people will not be stigmatising them, they will be free to eat and dress," she said.
The mental health expert said stigma has caused mental health patients to stay long without medication, many times being chained which is wrong.
Recovering drug addict and resident of Gede Jones Mwachala thanked the organisers for launching for the campaign.
Mwachala said he has recovered after using bhang and khat for 15 years which led his family to break up.
"I am currently living well with my people and the stigma is over am free to interact with anyone in the society," he said.
Edited by R.Wamochie