What you need to know:
- In 2018, Trizah Muthoni, an advocate of mental health, partnered with her friend Linda Njeru to set up a community-based organisation that reaches out to people battling mental health issues.
- The non-profit organisation also acts as a bridge between those who need help and professionals as well as health facilities where one can get medication.
As the young and old struggle with hardships and toxic relationships pushing them to depression and suicide, Trizah Muthoni, 34, decided not to sit back and watch but act.
In 2018, Trizah, an advocate of mental health, partnered with her friend Linda Njeru to set up Growth Catalysts, a community-based organisation that reaches out to people battling mental health issues and their families.
Ms Muthoni has since enrolled at Catholic University of East Africa (CUEA) to pursue a degree Counselling Psychology to support more people going through depression and other mental illnesses.
“We teach people that mental health is like other illnesses - it is not a death sentence. What people need to know is that this is a temporary condition that is treatable and they can go back to normal and live for long once they have recovered,” she says.
The non-profit organisation strives to raise awareness on mental health; they also act as a bridge between those who need help and professionals as well as health facilities where one can get medication and management.
According to Trizah, there are many people suffering from mental health illnesses and are abandoned by their families. There is also a low number of health care professionals in the country to offer counselling services and the organisation seeks to help fill this gap.
“Once people who have recovered from mental illness go back home, they need caregivers who will support them emotionally or financially,” explains the mother of two.
They also organise monthly cook-out events and workshops to reach out to the youth who will help to spread the message to the elderly.
“We work with young people because they are great influencers in society. They teach their peers about mental health issues and also reach out to the elderly in society,” she explains.
So what pushed her to work with people suffering from mental health?
“When my elder sister developed mental illness, most of my family members did not comprehend the sudden change of behaviour. This prompted me to conduct research and I discovered that she was suffering from bipolar type II where we took her to hospital for treatment.”
Luckily, the mental health of her elder sister significantly improved after she was taken to hospital and received treatment to manage the condition.
She says that sometimes, young people find themselves stuck in toxic relationships that drain their energies such as physical, emotional or sexual abuses which drives them into depression and other forms of mental disorders.
“Often, we advise them to walk out of such relationships but most of them find it difficult to move on so we advise them on coping mechanisms to protect their mental health,” she explains.
How has the initiative impacted on society? “People are now becoming aware of mental illness and more people are seeking help. What comes to the mind of people when suffering from mental illness is not that they think they are bewitched but how they can get help.”
The mental health activist observes that behavioural change differs depending on the age group but laments that children and teens suffering from mental illness are often overlooked.
“Teens and children are always overlooked in the sense that when they oversleep, get moody, irritable, lack motivation, or start engaging in drugs and substances or other negative coping mechanisms, we blame them on ‘teen’ development stage. Many children are suffering and not getting help because parents don’t even notice the behavioural changes,” says Trizah.
She adds: “We are telling parents to stay close to their children. If you are not close to your children, chances that when they are abused or bullied and them sliding into depression and not being able to notice behaviour change is very high. You should be the first person they are reaching out to you for emotional or psychological advice or even treatment when they are suffering from mental illness.”
With the Covid-19 pandemic, she says that there are rising cases of people struggling with depression, burnt-outs and other forms of mental illnesses due to job losses and isolations. This has also triggered a rise in domestic or Gender Based Violence in homes.
But the counsellor offers that mental health boils down to how one controls his or her thoughts.
“The difference between the one who get stressed and goes into chronic depression and the one who get over it is cognitive pattern or thought process. A person who is able to control thoughts and adapt very fast to a given situation is able to go through it.”
Currently, Trizah’s organisation works with over 80 volunteers, most of them being university graduates from Moi University and Catholic University of East Africa to offer professional counselling services.
The organisation also uses social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram to reach more people in the society.
Championing for mental health awareness, last year, she was among 700 selected from Africa for the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI).
Trizah will take part in a three-month course in the United States to sharpen her mentorship and leadership skills.
She is cognisant of the fact that addressing mental health faces challenges that include lack of adequate skilled workers and changing cultural norms. In some communities, she notes, mental health is seen as curse or witchcraft.
“I am committed to bring change and ensure patients of mental health get medical help and counselling without being stigmatised by society,” concludes Trizah.