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Defying the odds on mental health: two perspectives

By Wendy Achieng, Communications Assistant Voice

Voice was delighted to be part of the launch of the Social Innovation Lab being implemented by Cheshire Disability Services Kenya and Agency for Disability and Development in Africa (ADDA). The Social Innovation Lab brings together a diverse team of experts from multiple sectors to co-design, prototype, test and document training, and employment models for youths with intellectual and mental disabilities in Nairobi. 

The Voice team caught up with two participants associated with the project: a young woman, Noella, who is bipolar and a mother, Eva Kimani, who has a daughter who has the same condition. These are their stories.

Mama Martha

Martha Wanjiru is a bright, young and active woman whose love for life is evident in everything she does. A few weeks after joining a higher learning institution in Nairobi she was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder. What did this mean to her and her family in a society where conversations around psychosocial disorder are a big no-no? Here are the excerpts of a one-on-one interview with Martha’s mother; Eva Kimani, a strong-willed lady who is determined to raise awareness on psycho-social issues in her community. Needless to say, her efforts are slowly but surely bearing fruits:

Voice: When did the journey to get Martha diagnosed begin?

Eva: A few weeks after joining campus we realised that there was something wrong with our daughter. We suspected that it was the process of adapting to a new environment. Not once did we think that it might have been something different. From the day we heard that it was, our lives changed.

Voice: How was the road to access professional assistance?

Eva: At first it was difficult for us as a family. We did not know who to talk to as it was something new for us. We had to take time and research more on the diagnosis and figure out where we could seek professional help. Luckily through our community we heard about the Kamili Mental Health Organisation who works with Cheshire Disability Services. We are happy to have a supportive team of professional staff who are now walking this journey with us.

Voice: Family support is essential in any journey to recovery, how has this been for her siblings?

Eva: It is interesting to see her siblings want to know more about their sister’s condition as well as the people around her. Everyone is being intentional on being inclusive in how they engage with her.

Voice: You have been creating awareness on psychosocial disabilities, can you tell us more?

Eva: I believe that the only way change will be recognised and achieved is if we start having these conversations at the household level. We cannot only have these conversations with parents whose kids are diagnosed with psychosocial disabilities. Organisations working in this field need to have more community engagement activities. This will ensure that more people are interested in learning and sharing this new knowledge as the majority do not really understand the difference between a psychosocial disability and intellectual disabilities.

Voice: What changes do you aspire to see?

Eva: We are already on the right path of ensuring that voices of persons living with psychosocial disabilities are now being heard. I envision a society in which the reality of inclusion of their well-being is in government policies to special curriculums in schools. There is more to be done.

A special thanks to Eva Kimani, fondly known as Mama Martha for her courage in highlighting her journey.

Determined and Unbowed: Noella’s journey

Noella during the event

When Noella was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, she had to put her studies on hold. This, however, did not deter her from achieving her dreams. Working with Cheshire Disability Services in Kenya, on the Social Innovation Lab she is keen on unpacking ideologies about a topic that is often hushed in the Kenyan set-up. Listen to her incredible journey in her own words via the below podcast…..

A special thanks to Eva, fondly known as Mama Martha and Noella for sharing their experiences with us.

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