Mental Health Matters: Understanding and Addressing Common Issues Affecting Communities in East Africa

On 30 January 2023,  40 participants from the Lightup Impact Community gathered for the launch of our Experts Discussion series, starting with an engaging session on Mental Health. The discussion was led and moderated by Marlene Kawira Kinuya from Afrikala Arts and Amisa Rashid from the Nivishe Foundation. Both of whom are members of the Lightup Impact Community from Kenya.   Mental health is an integral part of being healthy and is crucial in our personal development and socialization – so much so that the absence of a healthy state of mind and psyche can have detrimental effects on our physical health. Mental health is an area of massive concern globally, and Kenya is no exception (WHO). Impoverished communities in Kenya are heavily affected by a lack of support for people affected by mental health conditions, including awareness about what these conditions are, how to identify them, and how to get help. Our experts opened up to our community to share more about the groundbreaking work they are doing to inspire our founders and shine a light on these issues in their local communities.  The general situation in Kenya Mental health is a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn and work well, and contribute to their community (WHO).    In Kenya, a staggering 1 in 4 people who seek healthcare have a mental condition (WHO), including depression, anxiety disorders, suicidal thoughts, and post traumatic stress disorder. Additionally, the Kenyan national commission of human rights estimates that 40% and 25% of patients receiving hospital care (inpatients) and those receiving care elsewhere (outpatients) are affected by mental health conditions (WHO), respectively. Still, data on the prevalence of mental health conditions in Kenya and resources to support patients are limited.   Kibera is one of the biggest slums in Kenya and is extremely poverty-stricken. As a result, it has far too many cases of sexual assault and stigmatization that have led to higher rates of mental health conditions in the region. Young girls, especially, face cases of misinformation leading to teenage pregnancies, the circumstances of which frequently drive the development of mental disorders. Moreover, mental healthcare for people living in Kibera has been described as inadequate, inefficient, and inequitable. This significant treatment gap has only worsened an already devastating situation.  Life after the COVID-19 pandemic In July 2020, the Kenyan task force on mental health recommended that mental disorders be declared a national emergency of epidemic proportions. They emphasized that mental health needs to be prioritized in the public health- and socioeconomic agenda. Depression and anxiety disorders are the leading mental disorders diagnosed in Kenya, followed by substance use disorders. Of great concern is that the abuse of legal or illegal substances like alcohol or drugs is most prevalent in the 18-29-year-old age group.   Kenyans living with mental disorders often experience stigma on multiple levels. Stereotypes surrounding those with mental disorders lead to public stigmatization, especially since many people associate mental disorders with witchcraft and evil. Furthermore, those struggling with mental disorders may internalize others’ negative perceptions of them, impacting how they view themselves and their overall quality of life since it can lead to loneliness and isolation. Stigma is a factor preventing Kenyans from seeking help and receiving efficient treatment. “Everyone is dealing with something they are not so comfortable talking about, and the youth are more affected…” With the pandemic came new challenges: loss of livelihoods, loss of loved ones, and change in normal life patterns. Everyone is dealing with something they are not so comfortable talking about, and the youth are more affected because they had certain expectations for their lives after school. Some of them thought life would be easier for them and their families after graduating from college or university because they had furthered their education. But the job market is flooded with more qualified individuals and fewer opportunities, making people feel more and more hopeless every day. The situation is even worse for those without an education or source of income; they have to survive and provide for their families by any means necessary. This means taking up labor-intensive manual work with little pay that can only provide for the basic needs to sustain survival for themselves and their families. This all-too-familiar vicious cycle of poverty impedes their efforts to pull themselves and their loved ones out of a bad situation – not to mention the toll the situation has on their mental health. The Nivishe Foundation The Nivishe Foundation is a grassroots organization based in Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum area that focuses on creating mental health awareness and breaking the stigma against mental disorders at the grassroots level. With the alarming rise of mental disorders and their corollary, stigma, and misinformation, Nivishe strives to build community resilience in mental health through community-based interventions, catering predominantly to women, young girls, and the youth in Kibera.  During the discussion, Amisa (Nivishe’s founder) shared how Nivishe eagerly integrates both health and education, two areas full of disparity and inequalities, into their formal and informal approaches. Nivishe impacts the lives of over 4 000 women and 10 000 youth annually through its various programs, including mental health advocacy and community-based mental health interventions. This has reduced cases of violence by 40% and increased the number of people seeking mental health services at the grassroots level.    As an all-inclusive organization, Nivishe offers psychosocial disability programs, such as mental health services by sign language, serving hundreds of individuals with hearing impairments. They also offer mental health and psychosocial support to young girls and teen mothers in addition to economic empowerment and computer literacy skills.   To bridge the lack of information on mental health in Kenya, Nivishe creates local resources and knowledge banks on relevant topics. To actualize this, Nivishe has partnered with institutes like Aga Khan University – Brain and Mind Institute to improve mental health in informal settlements. For the Nivishe team, “working with this community has

Have a question?​

For all inquiries regarding the Lightup Impact Days 2023,
please contact us at:

Want to stay updated?

Sign up for our newsletter

Get notified about new articles

Join us!

We increase the visibility and impact of social organizations with a focus on women’s health and gender equality in Kenya. We support the growth of our founders through tailored mentoring and networking opportunities