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Officer's battle with depression and his efforts to help colleagues

COUNTIES
By Lydiah Nyawira | April 22nd 2021

Sergeant David Mbitu Muchia, a Kenya prisons officer who battled depression and now is a mental health awareness advocate. [Courtesy]

As cases of murder and suicide among police officers continue to rise, one prisons officer, who is a victim of mental health and substance abuse has been at the forefront in creating awareness.

Sergeant David Mbitu says he has in the last five years been working with officers in addressing cases of depression and substance abuse among his colleagues.

“One of the challenges many officers face is they do not realise the impact their work has on their mental health,” he noted.

Mbitu says many of the men in the forces rarely have confidants and therefore have no one to discuss their concerns with.

According to Mbitu, his struggle with depression and substance abuse started when he was younger.

“I had a troubled childhood because my mother could not provide my school fees which frustrated me, and I started experimenting with marijuana. Sometimes I would sneak out of school to buy alcohol,” he explained.

Landing a job in the Kenya Prisons Service in 2006 after High School, he says was a relief.  However, as a prisons officer, he had a very active social life which masked the underlying mental anguish he was experiencing.

“At the time I didn’t realise I had depression, which I often masked by drinking alcohol and partying. After my first salary I applied for a loan of Sh300,000 which I spent in parties,” Mbitu said.

He cited that one of the challenges facing young recruits was a lack of financial management skills which leads to stress and hopelessness as they struggle to remain independent.

“During that time, I could not manage my finances and the loans I took put a strain on my earnings,” he said.

Mbitu said he married in 2008 but the union ended and when he remarried in 2012, he became a father. However, his drug abuse and depression persisted and this led to a dissolution of the union.

“Losing my daughter and wife really broke me and it led me to spiral out of control. I ended up in trouble with my superiors when I showed up to work late and intoxicated,” he said.

Mbitu recalled how at one point, he almost lost his job when he consumed alcohol exhibits which were to be presented as evidence.

“The magistrate wondered why I was unruly but my colleagues protected me by saying I was unwell. I was rushed to hospital, to hide my intoxication,” he noted.

His turning point in his life was when he was diagnosed with acute colitis which put his life in danger. “While on my hospital bed I made a decision to change my life. I quit alcohol and it has been four years of being sober.”

However, he still faced depression and he sought help. “I had to endure ridicule from colleagues many of whom do not believe in addressing mental health and counselling.” 

Since then, the officer has dedicated his efforts to work towards helping other prisons officers in tackling mental health, drug abuse and financial management.

“I work in a mental health outreach program within the Central Region Prisons Headquarters which carries out training among the disciplined forces to help identify cases that need counselling and make interventions,” Mbitu said. 

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