We’ve been hearing about mental health all over. I never go for long without hearing how men are depressed and how we are committing suicide more. It has gotten to a point where it’s exhausting. The moment I hear the words mental health, depression and suicide, I stop listening. And I think it’s the same for a lot of people. Discussions about mental health have been on the rise in an effort to increase awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues. But this has become monotonous and has led to loss of interest in the discussion. Which means more or less, we end up where we were before the discussion started.
In this article, I’ll be addressing the issue of mental health in campus and I’ll try to take a fresh approach. I’ll also be sharing the story of Peter Wainaina, a student from DeKUT who graduated last year. He took almost ten years to complete his course because of issues to do with mental health. This is despite the fact that he was an extremely bright engineering student who had been the envy of his classmates in first year. The good news is that he eventually conquered his situation and his story can inspire us to victory in dealing with our own mental health. His story also shows us the danger of ignoring mental health.
We chose to run this on 3rd Dec, which is the International Day of Persons with Disability and this begs the question: Is mental health a form of disability? I did some research and according to the WHO, depression is one of the main causes of disability worldwide. It is estimated that 264 million people are affected by depression. The WHO, and not the Mens’ Conference, also goes ahead to state that more women have been affected by depression. I mention that fact because of late, feminists have been enthusiastically advocating the narrative that men are more depressed because of the reality of what it takes to be a man in our culture. They have thus been urging us as men to handle our issues more like females so that we can be less depressed. Well, dear feminists, even with all your “efficiency” in handling mental and emotional issues, you are still leading in depression. Anyway, that is a debate that can last for a long time and since I don’t want to get into it now, I stop there. The takeaway is: Let’s separate gender inequality and depression. They are two different issues and should be dealt with as such. Mental health issues are a complicated enough problem without feminists using them as a tool to advance their agenda.
Mental disorders like anxiety disorders, depression and bipolar disorder are a major concern in campus. But campus students (and our society in general) are reluctant to face this issue and grab the bull by its horns. In my opinion, one reason behind this reluctance is the use of the word “disorder” and the notion that a mental disorder is a form of “disability.” Yes, by definition, mental disorders are a form of disability. But the problem is that as a society, we have agreed that disability is wrong and shameful. It is shunned. As long as we keep looking at mental health issues that way, we will never win the war. And as we will see in Peter’s story, dealing successfully with mental health issues is crucial if we are to lead a meaningful life.
Peter says, “I was a bright student and was admired by most of my peers. I enjoyed school and scored good grades during my first year. But, after three years at the university, things began to fall apart.” He went on to suffer severe insomnia. He also cut off contact with his friends and family. He would have extreme mood swings. At times, he would be jovial, talking and laughing with his friends. At other times, he would be in extremely low moods that would lead to suicidal thoughts. He says, “I attempted suicide three times. The third time, I tried to overdose on drugs. My friends found out and banged on my door.” Eventually, he would lock himself up in his room and would sometimes wear shoes on opposite feet. Being in this state greatly affected his studies. When the time came for him to work on his final year Engineering project, he took more time than he was supposed to. He had to watch as his classmates graduated and left him behind.
Later, after the school called home and told them what was happening, his relatives tricked Peter into visiting a mental health institution. They had asked for his assistance in taking a relative to hospital. It was only when they got there that Peter discovered their aim. At first, when they encouraged him to consult about his headaches and insomnia, he refused. He insisted that he wasn’t sick. Later, they convinced him to at least try the medication. The first night after he took it, he slept peacefully – something he hadn’t been able to do in a long time. After seeing that the medicine really was of help, he became open to the idea that he may have a problem and was more receptive to treatment.
He learnt about bi-polar disorder. He discovered that most of the symptoms he had been experiencing, which had been impossible to explain, were the symptoms of bi-polar disorder. He says, “At first, it was a shock to me. But after a few months of counseling, things went back to normal. My life changed drastically, I was able to finish school in less than a year and related well with my friends, family and lecturers.”
He did not experience the depression again and his life has gotten back on track.
The problem with our society is that we disregard mental health. For a long time, the only aspect of health that we have cared about is the physical one. To be fair, it is really difficult to ignore a toothache or a bleeding nose. But when we get depression, experience excessive anxiety, mood swings or any other symptom of mental disorder, we ignore it. To us, visiting psychiatrists is either for “mad” men and women or a luxury. Even in an age where information is free, we cannot google about mental disorders. And such behavior is costing us. Many forms of mental disorder, even the most extreme ones such as schizophrenia, can be managed or at least mitigated by seeking professional help. But without help, even minor mental illnesses (just as is the case with normal diseases) can lead to major problems.
I agree that professional psychiatrists could be out of our reach. But, there are options, such as visiting the school counselors or reaching out to peer counselors. I may not be able to get airlifted to Aga Khan when I have a problem, but I can go to the school medical center or visit a public hospital and get services.
The most important take away from this is:
Mental disorders are normal diseases. If you have the symptoms of Malaria, you go get checked out. And if you ignore them, then you suffer and potentially die. The same is true for mental illnesses. Ignore your mental health at your own peril.
Important Contacts for DeKUT students:
- Counseling Office/ University social worker: 0740506597.
2. Mary Immaculate Kiio – 0745081278 (Peer counselor at DeKUT)
3. Gift Masha – 0743553289 (DeKUT Peer counselor)
4. Dishan Otieno – 0706864222 (DeKUT Peer counselor)
5. Cornelius Muthomi – 0759899444 (DeKUT Peer counselor)
6. Yvonne Awuor Amenya – 0713938828 (DeKUT Peer counselor)
7. Muthua Joseph Karugu – 0748017909 (DeKUT Peer counselor)
8. Shibiriti Calvine – 0742055786 (DeKUT Peer counselor)
9.Moses Mugo – 0791537281 (DeKUT Peer Counselor)
10. Dancan Mumo – 0759822730 (DeKUT Peer Counselor)