Mind your mind

Day today, we speak to Stephen Siloma, executive Director, Nijali Foundation. Having battled suicidal thoughts as a result of depression he explains why Kenyans should start talking about rising cases of suicide

Harriet James @harriet86jim

What inspired you to start this organisation?

I was inspired  by the stigma, stereotype and taboos surrounding the topic of mental health in Kenya. I realised that a lot of people directly or indirectly affected by mental health issues, do not have a platform to talk about it. With World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics showing that one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, everyone should have an understanding of mental health.

What does the name Nijali mean?

Nijali means care. The name is loosely translated from our pioneer mental health awareness project/campaign “Mind My Mind”. After launching the Mind My Mind campaign, I teamed up with two other people, my co-founders Elizabeth Macharia and George Mbugua. we came up with Nijali as a suitable name to simply describe the goal of all projects that we are embarking on, which is to get everyone to care about their mental health and that of those around them.

Did you struggle with suicidal thoughts?

Yes, I did at one point in my life. Suicidal thoughts can often accompany depression. What are some of the things that triggered depression in your life?

There are many things that trigger depression. Everyone has a different experience, but I would say that it is important to be self-aware in order to understand how various things are affecting you emotionally and be able to seek help.

How did you know it was depression and how did you treat it?

I was diagnosed by a doctor and underwent counselling. Counselling and talk therapy/psychotherapy can be effective in treating depression as it helps one identify the root cause or trigger of their depression, helps one cope with their feelings and train them on how to change behaviour patterns that could be contributing to their symptoms.

How serious is the suicide problem in Kenya. Should we all be worried about it?

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, 421 suicides were reported in Kenya in 2017, which was a rise by about 50  per cent from 2015. Out of the 421 suicides, 330 were by men, which places the percentage of suicides by men at 78 per cent in 2017 compared to 91 suicides by women.

Is the government doing enough?

Not quite. Mental health awareness has not been prioritised in the health care sector. Kenyans do not understand the importance of mental health. Also, medication and specialised care for mental health conditions are quite expensive and not easily accessible. If the government could subsidise the costs of such medication, it would really help people suffering from mental health disorders.

What do you as an organisation do to create mental health awareness?

Through our mental health awareness campaign Mind My Mind, we have a support group for people who have been directly and indirectly by mental health issues. Through this campaign we have many volunteers who are our mental health ambassadors who help us spread mental health awareness.

Social media has also been a huge awareness platform for us. For example in January this year, we made an open call to the young people giving them a chance to express themselves in art. From the many submissions we received, we collated 40 poems and compiled them to a free e-book titled  I Will Soar, which can be downloaded from our website at http://mindmymind.co.ke/iwillsoar/. We also partner and collaborate with other mental health organisations in facilitating mental health discussion.

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