What you need to know:
- There is a lot of stigma associated with mental health, and the treatment is very expensive.
- Our team aims to help patients afford treatment by collaborating with government agencies, NGOs, and philanthropic organisations to secure funding so that we can support needy patients.
- We also work with health insurance providers to include mental health services in their coverage plans.
Saumu is the daughter of former Nairobi governor Mike Sonko. She is big on mental health and runs an organisation called Pamoja We Can. She speaks about her struggles with mental health, especially her personal journey of living with bipolar disorder. She plans to run for a political seat in 2027, with the aim of making a more significant impact in the community.
1. You are quite vocal on mental wellness. What inspired your passion for mental health advocacy?
They say the light that burns from within burns the brightest. What inspired me is my own personal journey. I am a bipolar survivor. I have lived with this disorder for more than seven years. As I shared my stories, I realised that so many people were suffering in silence, especially young people, and are scared of coming out. That’s why I decided to come out and be a voice to the voiceless.
In June this year, we hosted a mentorship event in Kakamega where we brought together 30 students from 10 schools. As an organisation, we believe in the Swahili saying "samaki mkunje angali mbichi," so we are trying to help teenagers stay away from vices such as substance abuse, and find better ways of handling stress and anxiety. We always tell them that it is okay not to be okay."
2. As the daughter of a former governor, how has your family's background influenced your journey and commitment to mental health advocacy?
It has made it easier for me to reach out to potential partners and create more awareness on mental health matters. My father is quite popular, so it is easy for me to make useful connections.
3. From your experience, what are some of the most significant mental health challenges faced by Kenyans, and how can they be addressed?
There is a lot of stigma associated with mental health, and the treatment is very expensive. Our team aims to help patients afford treatment by collaborating with government agencies, NGOs, and philanthropic organisations to secure funding so that we can support needy patients. We also work with health insurance providers to include mental health services in their coverage plans.
Additionally, we leverage telehealth and digital platforms to provide remote mental health consultations, reducing the need for costly in-person visits. Lastly, we offer online support groups and therapy sessions to make mental health services more accessible and cost-effective.
4. Can you tell us about a personal or community experience that particularly motivated you to focus on mental health issues?
There is a time I was going through my messages, and I realised people were going through so much, especially during the Covid-19 period, and that I was not the only one who was suffering in silence. I decided to do a Live on Instagram and share my story, and so many people sent me messages telling me how much they have been looking for someone to just listen to them without judging them or thinking they are crazy. It inspired me to be vocal on mental health matters and highlight their challenges.
5. What advice would you offer to individuals, especially single parents, who may be dealing with mental health challenges while raising children and building their careers?
First, know that it is okay not to be okay. Be patient and put God first. Understand that children are not looking for perfect parents but happy ones, and that means safeguarding your well-being, which includes your mental state. This matters so much to them. Being a mother of two and a founder of the Pamoja We Can Initiative, my long-term vision is to establish mental health rescue centers in all counties to increase access to affordable mental health services.