World Mental Health Day: in Kenya, mentally ill people are locked up by their families

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On World Mental Health Day, Saturday 10 October, NGO Human Rights Watch released a report. Globally, 792 million people have a mental health problem – one in 10 people and one in five children. And yet governments spend less than 2% of their health budget on mental health. In Kenya, there are only two psychiatrists per Million inhabitants. As a result, patients find themselves locked up, bound, or even chained by their relatives, helpless in the face of the disease in the absence of funds. Report from Nyeri, Central Kenya.

We are located in Nyeri County, a rural and agricultural region. A gravel road, a few barracks and then to the left a small shed. Behind these boards, Anna, in her fifties. She speaks continuously, binding together and coherent words. While she was still a schoolgirl, doctors diagnosed her with a mental deficiency, bipolarity. But his family cannot afford treatment. So for 30 years, Anna has lived locked in here. It is Gladys, her sister-in-law, who takes care of it: “She is locked in there because she is fleeing and she is crazy. She’s running too fast, I can not pick her up anymore. In the morning I give him breakfast. Porridge or milk. When she defecates in her bed, I wash her. Sometimes I take her a few minutes in the sun to warm her up, but as soon as she gets angry, I unlock her again. “

Anna lives in this two to three meter windowless room with an overwhelming smell. In one corner, a basin for his excrement, in the other, his bed infected with fleas: “I’m so bad here. I so much want to go out to warm myself in the sun. I remember when I was in school “and I could enjoy nature … Look today at these tracks on my arms. They chain me to my bed!”

Ropes hang on either side of the bed to immobilize him in a crisis, his family explains. In Kenya, the mentally ill shame their relatives, preferring to hide them from society.

Mary Ndegu works in an association that tries to raise awareness among the population about patients’ rights: “This kind of situation is quite common here. Most families lock up sick loved ones because of the stigma, the shame. Mental illness is often associated with witchcraft, evil spirits. Therefore, they hide them. It’s not that they dislike them, they like them, but that’s the only option for them. They can not afford specialized institutions. They do not even have enough to eat. ”

In recent years, Kenya has experienced a dramatic increase in suicide and depression. The government recently decided to take over the issue. New mental health policies are expected to be announced in the coming months.

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