I turned my mental health crisis in to a social enterprise

I turned my mental health crisis in to a social enterprise. Photo | Pool

What you need to know:

Mathilda Wangari N’thama, 30, is the founder of Let’s Talk Initiative, an organisation that works with institutions, parents and clergy on matters of mental health

Mathilda Wangari N’thama has found her way to turn pain into beauty. In 2017, she was in a dark place and on a particular afternoon of that year, she was considering ending her life. Then she met a friend who made a silly joke and at that moment, she knew she wanted to live.

Two years later, she kick-started Let’s Talk Initiative, a non-governmental organisation that offers services such as counselling, mentorships and training.

 “We work with learning institutions, clergy, parents and learners,” Mathilda says.  

The month of May being the Mental health awareness month, Mathilda endeavors to reach out to more people especially in encouraging young people to open up and be part of conversations around the topic.

Five years ago, nothing about mental health awareness was in Mathilda plans. It took losing jobs, and failed businesses to found the initiative.

 “I have always been a visionary. In secondary school, I had almost all aspects of my life mapped out. I wrote about goals I was striving towards. In addition to dream universities, there were bullet points for my career paths and the positions I would hold.”

Then, she enrolled at a local university to pursue hospitality and tourism management, graduated in 2014 and left with hope. At first, there was an accretion of rejection emails from employers and then in quick succession, her businesses failed. She had tried selling cosmetics, eggs, and setting up a juice production venture before turning it into a fruit parlour.

“At one point, I got a job locally, and weeks later an opportunity to travel and work abroad. Then, in ways that are still a mystery all the plans flopped. Everything around me was like a sequence of morse code: short employment stints interspersed between long dashes of unemployment and crumbling ventures,” she says. 

In those moments of despair, Mathilda cried. She prayed. And sought answers from God—she’s a believer. “I woke up one morning with a conviction that I needed to advance the talk around mental health. I had had my share of stress and depression and I could help other people go through it,” she says. 

Mathilda was particularly drawn toward young people because she discovered that they are mostly misunderstood and not listened to. 

“I realised that all along I was meant to be a counselling psychologist,” she says. 

Mathilda knew she had to action the idea. Armed with Sh5, 000, she founded the Let’s Talk Initiative in 2019 as a social enterprise. She also went back to school to pursue counselling psychology. 

“I have since graduated with a diploma in counselling and I am currently pursuing a degree programme in the same.”

With a team of 12 partners, with whom they collaborate on service needs, Mathilda traverses Embu (where they are located) and Kirinyaga counties offering the different services.

 “I can say that we have visited most of the learning institutions in Embu but it has not been easy. I remember a few months after kick-starting, the Covid-19 pandemic hit and I had to pause the program,” Mathilda says. 

When schools re-opened, Mathilda says it was difficult getting an audience with some schools largely because mental health was a novel topic to some. 

“With time, calls started coming in and it got so overwhelming that I had to look for a team. Thankfully, we are like a family and very supportive of one another,” she shares. 

With the mental health as a social enterprise pursuit, one challenge presented itself—money. 

“Most of the institutions that I visited were in real need of my services but couldn’t afford to facilitate me. I would say, “No, problem. Then go back home and cut whatever I could do without. I needed a purpose and I was convinced that money would follow later,” Mathilda says.

She has since found a way to earn a living from the passion. “Sometimes I volunteer my services but other times, I charge. This depends on the services being offered and the client. That way, I am able to serve the community while still earning a living,” she says.

The organisation has since grown and although they are still limited of resources, they now have a physical location in Embu town. 

 According to Mathilda, one of her biggest goals is to unearth learners’ nuggets of information that are sometimes overlooked by society yet are critical to solving some of the problems they face.

“There are many challenges that learners are facing in schools and at home. When we talk to teens and pre-teens, they decry parental negligence, lack of father figures and poverty. And there’s also the issue of engaging in sexual activities in the name of ‘discovering.’ So we have also included sex education into our programs and we discuss these issues with school administrations and parents,” Mathilda shares. 

 Because her work involves listening to and helping solve problems almost every day, she frequently requires debriefing. Her ways? Talking to other counsellors, praying and serving in the church. “It also helps that I have a strong support system—my family and colleagues.”

Her vision is to see stakeholders in different fields embrace mental health discussions among young people.  “Every time I receive a call from someone who is giving up on life and I successfully talk them out of it, it dawns on me that many individuals can be rescued if we made mental health a priority.”


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