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Mental illness is no longer a silent pandemic

 Counselling Psychologist Dr Susan Gitau. [File, Standard]

As a country, we have put aside issues revolving around mental health for too long. That is why we continually see strange happenings that leave everyone utterly shocked. We have not put the right measures to deal with mental illness and this ought to have been done when the cases of mental illness began to increase.

When we were faced with the Covid-19 pandemic, the nation was left to deal with numerous mental health challenges. Mental health professionals, include psychiatrists, psychologists, guidance and counselling officers, and social workers are not fully utilised by the public.

It is important to understand that when a person is doing certain things, their brain is not functioning normally as in the recent Kitengela case where a young woman by the name Olivia Naserian brutally murdered her two-year-old daughter and ate some of her body parts.

The human mind has a part called the animal brain or the survival brain that is similar to that of the animals and when one is faced with danger, or problems or is deeply depressed, then that part of the brain can be activated.

That person may commit a crime in such a cruel way that leaves everyone shocked, and even people around them may say they never thought or imagined such a person could do something of that magnitude.

At that time, their brain is no longer human (one that may question itself about the consequences, like if I do this, what will happen later, or what will be the aftermath) because the human brain is usually unable to function normally when the animal brain is activated.

It is therefore important as Kenyans to begin to understand the signs that one could be going through mental turmoil to help them seek help by observing the way they dress, eat or relate with other people when there are changes, the family should immediately initiate talks with them and help them before the condition escalates.

Even colleagues at work can observe each other and if one begins changing, they may help them; one can change how they dressed, come to work late, come to work drunk, talk back to their bosses or even miss work without a good reason, especially if they valued their work before.

There is mental illness at Shakahola because the leader and his followers could be mentally ill.

The World Health Organization has a manual for psychological first aid, so the families and followers of the Malindi cult should be taken through psychological first aid.

Not just the families or other followers of the church only, but everyone that has been involved especially the young men doing the exhumation of the bodies, the government officials such as the DCI and the police officers, the journalists and the human rights activists at the Shakahola site and should not be let to go home without the counselling.

- Dr Gitau is a Counseling Psychologist

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