Conjestina — Time to rethink mental health care in Kenya

Conjestina Achieng’s name was once on everyone’s lips for the right reasons. Kenyans would cheer her on as she landed heavy punches on her opponents - she looked destined for greatness.

Numerous television interviews followed and Conje, as she was popularly known, was becoming a proper superstar.

However, in 2009, word went round that she had a mental condition and her fans struggled to come to terms with this.

The bold, powerful and vocal Conje sick? No not her.

Members of the press flocked her home in Nairobi’s Lucky Summer Estate and although the boxer maintained that all was well, something was not quite right.

In 2011, her late dad Clement Adalo appealed to Kenyans to help him take his daughter to hospital after her condition deteriorated.

He stated that the boxer had removed her son from school and had burnt all her boxing gear.

Conje had also disposed all the equipment in her gymnasium and was struggling to pay her bills.

She was diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder/paranoid schizophrenia and admitted at Mathari Teaching and Referral Hospital in September 2012, before being released from the facility in October 2014.

It was at this point that she relocated to her rural home in Siaya County since the city life had become too costly.

Her mum Gertrude Auma revealed that they had sold a lot of property to finance Conje’s treatment and her husband Clement was deeply saddened by his daughter’s condition prior to his death.

Villagers stated that the once famous boxer engaged in heavy drinking and often exhibited violent behavior as her situation worsened.

Several leaders had pledged to help her but you can’t help but ask, did it have to get to this?

Most sports personalities in Kenya end up living miserable lives and whenever the government steps in, it is often too late.

You might argue that they (the sports personalities) ought to ‘make hay while the sun shines’ but Conje’s situation could have been handled better don’t you think?

Assuming help would have come early, perhaps we would be having a different conversation altogether.

In some sections of Kenya, people attribute mental illness to evil spirits and believe that those who develop such are under some sort of spell.

The situation is so serious such that patients face stigma and their families shy away from seeking medical help.

It is high time we changed our perceptions towards mental illness and accept it as a disease that can be treated when diagnosed early.