Lucas Otieno, the Last God’s Appeal Church elder said there are many lakes in Kenya, but the Holy Spirit directed him to Lake Simbi...
Eminent Psychiatrist David Ndetei reveals why families are complicated and the irony of Christians consulting witchdoctors
Families on average are very complicated; deep seated hatred, siblings who don’t see eye to eye. What happens?
There is nothing new about sibling rivalry, it has always been there. There have been worse cases, the only difference is because right now we are seeing more of these family related problems because there are laws that control how you can be violent within family unlike before where people faced little or no consequences because culturally it was accepted. But ultimately there is nothing new about family problems.
Which are the best ways of mending dysfunctional families?
There is no better way than communicating. You cannot prescribe medicine that will stop the problems at family level. As a psychiatrist I don't attend to individuals, instead I recommend that if one has a problem with the husband, they come together. We always assume that only women are beaten by their husbands, but it is surprising how many men come forward saying, that their wives have been beating them but did not report because of the cultural issues. I create an environment where they can both speak freely.
Kenyans are very religious, but also visit witchdoctors and worship the corrupt. We are a contradicted society…
That is true and I do not necessarily condemn those people. The people who have scientific background will explain what they see using scientific models. Kambas say, 'nobody dies for nothing' they will visit a witchdoctor for intervention. The same way Christians go to a spiritual person for prayer. Prayers do help, but people should understand that some problems the pray for could be biological and can be treated.
Very religious families also have alcoholics and crooks. What explains that?
It has always been like that. Scientifically, DNA is used to differentiate people because we are all very different. You can have two people born of the same mother, same environment, the love is the same, yet one becomes successful and the other does not. These people are different genetically, and 75 percent of our behaviors are determined by our genes, it has absolutely nothing to do with religion.
The Corona pandemic broke many families; divorces shot up, so has crime. What other devastations have you observed?
Corona has been around for about one year. Any new phenomenon in the world, always comes with uncertainty and fear of the unknown. In about 100 years ago, there was Spanish flu, it is a complete replica of what is happening now. If you check the notices from 100 years ago, you'd think that the people writing the Corona virus notices from that.
- READ MORE
- What a strange new world in store for Covid babies
- Five brilliant online business ideas you can start today
- Modern fishmonger is young, posh, educated, perfumed and digital
- Dear Mr President, please ease curfew hours: Kisima Awards appeal
If you listen to what preachers then preached, you'd think preachers today are copying what was preached before. Anything new causes problems. When we have issues in the families, and for the first time children would start asking questions about why parents are spending so much time at home, it is very important to understand the dynamics that maybe why children are having problems and family problems is because of the disruptions brought by Covid-19.
Do psychiatrists also have mental issues and do they turn to?
We are human beings and we are subject to everything that affects human beings. However, professionally we are not supposed to talk about that.
We managed to eradicate stigma around HIV AIDS and now Covid, but never mental illness. Why?
The reason HIV was stigmatized was because there was no awareness of what was happening. There is stigma because there is no awareness on mental health. We have been able to demonstrate effectively in Makueni about mental health. People stigmatize conditions because no one tells them why it is happening and get them to communicate and understand.
How does one stay sane amidst the pressure of life, post covid disruptions...
You have to understand the condition first. Dialogue is good for a person under pressure, to get someone to talk to about what you are going through. The social systems within the society should be supportive. Learn from people who are coping having gone through the same.
The rich, on average, are usually sad characters. Why doesn't money bring happiness?
There is no difference between the rich and poor. From the Bible, all the riches of the earth are vanity. True happiness is not in what you have, not in the wealth, true happiness is being satisfied with what you have. If you go to people who live in the slums have very different priorities from the rich. True achievement is not what you accumulate but what you do for others.
A-Students and the very talented are usually unable to cope with pressures of life. C-students and other average people cope very well. What happens?
It is not necessarily correct. The normal distribution curve has the majority at the centre, and those with limited intellectual capacity to achieve everything, the people in the middle know what they want to achieve. The IQ is genetically determined in 80 percent in the cases, if you are doing so well, don't go boasting that you are clever, you have done nothing to be top of your class, you inherited it all.
Marriages are a huge cause of mental strife. Advice newlyweds...
Many people with problems in families do not understand each other. Dialogue is highly recommended. Ways of expressing love is biologically determined. Men see things differently from how women. Women are emotionally inclined to most things, so if people understand the biological make up of their partners, many problems can be solved by dialogue.
You were awarded a Doctor of Science, higher than a PhD. What new revelations about the human mind did you gather?
I trained in the UK in one of the best universities. This had nothing to do with my intelligence, the Kenyan government proposed me and the British government accepted me. It is only in Kenya that if you call a professor by their name it becomes an issue. I met some of the best brains in the world. One of the professor who introduced me to psychiatry once told me to call him by name, a very senior person in psychiatry.
Your doctorate thesis was titled 'psychiatric Phenomenal Across Cultures.' Maasais hardly commit suicide and it is rare to come across mentally disturbed ones. How come?
My study was done in London. We had people from Africa, Caribbean, America, Europe, England, India and so forth. We brought them together and realized they had more or less the same ties of problems. However, they varied in the way they presented those symptoms. My conclusion was that all human beings are the same, the one thing that differentiates them is their cultures.
Having been dispensary prefect at Machakos School must have influenced your career choice. But why Psychiatry?
I started working in the school dispensary while I was in Form Two, the then prefect was called Roy Muoki. He asked me to help him. I don't know why. Then when he left for Form Six, the principal appointed me dispensary prefect while in Form Three. While serving, I had very interesting interactions with personalities. I really don't know why I didn't kill them! I had no medical background but I managed to help patients.
(The late President Daniel) Moi gave me a book during his visit to the school which I later learned was a book of psychiatry while in university. My father also influenced my career choice. He never raised his hand on me and I learnt you can resolve everything through dialogue.
One time I burned a house down while playing with fire, my father did not beat me up. He spoke to me. Joseph Muhanji, the then professor of psychiatry told me to study psychiatry. A very prominent cardiologist from Mombasa told me if he had another chance, he would specialize in psychiatry. These people humbled me.
During your Inaugural Lecture in 2001 you got emotional at the mention of your mother in the audience. What is the back story?
My mother is very close to me and is my good friend. I was not the only one who broke down, it was the whole audience. I was describing the fire in Kyanguli Secondary school where 67 students were burnt to death. I was involved in the response, there was no money and I went into my pocket. Talking to those mother's was very painful.
Which part of your childhood influenced your adulthood?
My father! The relationship I had with my parents, their kindness and generosity greatly influenced the person I am today.
Do you find yourself doing unintentionally psychiatric analysis of your own family and friends...
I do analysis of people who come to me on professional level.
You have trained many psychiatrists. Which one can't you forget and why?
Many of them have been very successful and I am very proud of them. Few of them are more of politicians than psychiatrists. Some are preoccupied with being famous and making money. My prayer is that the people I train are better than me because if they don't I'll be dissapointed. Some just wanted titles for personal pursuits and that's the only time I had regrets.