How Bipolar Disorder Is Viewed In Kenya

Kenya is a country on the East side of the African continent. Mental illness is still a taboo subject here. Even among the elite and educated citizens, witchcraft and curses are still considered the greatest cause of mental illness. It is common to read in the media that mass hysteria is caused by djinns or demons. 

Up close and personal to me was a dear friend telling me that “people with bipolar disorder can murder” others, my tattoo artist asking me to be born again in order to lift the witchcraft, an ex-girlfriend that once advised that I could be suffering from a generational curse, or the one time a close relative asked if I had joined a cult. 

In some cases, religious extremism has led to people suffering from undiagnosed schizophrenia or bipolar disorder being chained to a church in order to exorcise the demons within. I am sure this may sound like something out of a poorly written fictional novel. The sad truth is that the cultural beliefs among the 42 tribes in Kenya have intertwined with religion which has been detrimental to mental health awareness. 

Maybe the reality on the ground in Kenya is that we have other severe health crises like malaria and HIV/AIDS. These complications coupled with severe poverty and absolute ignorance, mental health is only a concern for families directly affected or caregivers that do the minimal to empower those of ‘unsound mind’. 

Now where does bipolar disorder fit into the Kenyan perspective? I cannot say I know. Maybe we already have other urgent matters in our country; so it will take time before we achieve the great heights other countries have had in raising awareness specifically for bipolar disorder. In other African countries PTSD among civil war survivors is treated with greater determination than any other form of mental illness. 

There is a dim light at the end of the tunnel if I am able to write and share this article yet stay employed. My family members respect my efforts in bipolar awareness. My minor embarrassments with stigma are diminished each time I inspire others from around the world to increase efforts in bipolar awareness. One day our collective efforts will spill into each country in the world. I am of sound mind building a foundation for future Kenyans that may have to deal with the stigma of bipolar disorder.

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