Mental health problems have often mistakenly been associated with weakness, and the stigma of being labelled “mentally ill” is sometimes too big a burden as the condition itself.
But Jubilee nominated MCA Elizabeth Gichuki has been praised by mental health campaigners and her colleagues, for talking openly about self-harming and having suicidal thoughts when she was in her teens.
Recently, Ms Gichuki, a mother of two, shocked her colleagues at the assembly when she talked about going into “a total tailspin” after her husband, whom she lived with in the US became abusive and confined her to the house for months.
“After I got my first child, I got into postpartum depression that never lasted for long. But after sometime my husband started becoming abusive. He denied me any opportunity to pursue my career or go back to school. When I went to the US, I had two goals... one to pursue a career in nursing and to advance my education,” she recalled her short stint in Atlanta, Georgia.
In her mid-20s, she was confined to the house and slowly she started keeping to herself.
“I became so afraid of sleep that I spent months living nocturnally,” she said. She described her depression as “a smothering black blanket” that took away her hope and energy.
“I didn’t know what was happening until I started hurting myself, punching walls, crying,” she recalled during an interview with The Standard at the Nakuru county assembly.
One day, she hit rock bottom due to the frequent arguments with her husband. She waited for him to go to work and then took a bottle of medicine that had been prescribed for her ulcers. She gulped it down and then took some painkillers. That didn’t work.
“I wanted to die. I cut myself with blades or broken glass. I was taken to hospital and diagnosed with clinical depression,” she added.
After a few weeks at Peachford Behavioural Health SY, on 2151 Peachford Road in Atlanta, Georgia, Gichuki got well and returned home.
“I was admitted because of major depression. The hospital management understood my problem and they recommended that I needed someone to talk to. The man I was living with did not want me to communicate even with my parents. He also barred me from attending a local church that was frequented by my fellow Kenyans. I was in some kind of house arrest,” she narrated.
Gichuki recalled that after the treatment they lived well as a family for a couple of months until she got pregnant with her second child — a girl.
“After a few months, things got worse and the arguments, hate and confinement to the house returned. There was this time I asked him to buy me sanitary towels on his way back home from work and he became abusive.
“I was really hurt. Here I am stuck in the house raising his children. I had the ability to work and even pursue my education further but he denied me that chance and now he spoke to me like I’m nothing. I was badly hurt by his words.”
During the interview with The Standard, Gichuki rolles up her sleeves to reveal her scars.
“This is a reminder of what I went through,” she said as she showed this writer a scar on her left wrist.
When she could no longer cope with all the stress, she cut her wrist so that she could bleed to death but she was rescued.
On another occasion, Gichuki tried to hang herself using her leather belt at a public park. On the same night, she had attempted to throw herself in a lake within the vicinity but couldn’t bring herself to do it.
She started crying as she walked back to the house. It was on her way back that she met a neighbour she had never talked to. The woman took her to her house and they had a chat.
“This woman seemed to understand what I was going through,” she said.