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Murder convict shares her mental health journey

After being consigned to Kodiaga Maximum Prison for 10 years for allegedly killing her son, Helen Kanyerere has now finally admitted it, but forlornly narrates it was due to her mental health status back then.

“I murdered my child unknowingly and that’s why I was jailed,” Kanyerere who is a Ugandan made the grim confession.

“I was brought to Kenya when I was a teenager by my mother’s sister to help her take care of her young child. After reaching 18 years of age, I left my aunt and got employed at a local matchstick-making company,” she revealed.

Kanyerere further said that she got married while working at the matchstick-making company and she was by then in a stable mental health condition.

“We were blessed with two beautiful children and on my third pregnancy, I started experiencing some problems. After I successfully delivered the baby, the doctors informed me that I had developed a mental illness,” Kanyerere reminisced about when her personal woes began.

With a tinge of pain in her voice, she continued, “I used to wake up in the wee hours at around 2 am, start walking aimlessly and then remove all my clothes. I would fearlessly eat my own faeces, and scavenge for food among the garbage littering the streets because of my mental health.”

Her mother, Kanyerere informs, took her to the hospital to obtain the requisite mental healthcare to save her life from further destruction. She was treated, healed and discharged to go home.
Unfortunately, she points out that she was withdrawn from her medication because it was believed that she was now in a sound state of mind, the mental illness bounced back and she had to be taken back to the hospital a second time.

For a second time, she healed and was discharged after treatment from the hospital. She absconded from her drugs and the illness persisted as the challenging long treks to the health facility continued.

“When my third born was three years old, I was arrested and placed in the prison cells without knowing anything because I had unconsciously lost my mind,” she narrated during an exclusive interview with KNA at the Kodiaga Prison grounds.

After six months of gaining consciousness, she explained that she got courage and approached one of the female prison wardens to inquire when the ‘seminar they have been attending at that place will come to an end as she can see that they are always in uniform.’

“Helen, you are not attending a seminar but you are in prison having been jailed for killing your child,” she recalls having been informed by a female warden.

She recalls that she fainted and became gloomy after realising that she is in incarceration for performing the heinous act of murdering her child. Kanyerere said that she was mentally depressed and stressed again and the Women’s Prison administration helped her get more medical attention at the Kakamega Hospital.

The doctors and the wardens, she said, have continued to encourage her not to relent on taking her drugs for she might end up committing another criminal offence. She admits that she has not defaulted to taking her drugs again.

Despite the insurmountable odds she has gone through, Kanyerere is looking forward to her release from the correctional facility in November this year as she appealed to the Judiciary to consider lesser sentences when handling mental health-related cases.

The air of uncertainty continues to grip her, as she is worried about where she will stay after her husband rejected her.

“I called my husband some months ago and he told me he doesn’t need me or want to see me again, and directed me to go to my birthplace,” she remorsefully said.

It is another double tragedy, she said, as her mother remarried and has five children after her father passed on. Kanyerere said that her mother is concerned that if she joins her, she might contribute to her marriage collapsing.

Of great concern to her, is how she will manage to buy expensive medical drugs like sertraline

after being set free. She calls upon society to understand and embrace those who are having mental health issues as anyone can be affected.

“People should talk politely to mental health victims for some time if they feel like badly harming or killing an individual when approached with aggression,” she advised,
Kanyerere appealed to the government to freely offer mental health-related drugs to patients just like they are doing with Tuberculosis cases. She further called on the government and any well-wishers to come to her aid and offer her a job after her release.

“I can work in a government hospital by doing cleaning or cooking services to cushion myself after my life in prison,’’ she said, adding that, ‘I don’t know how I am going to survive out there because I have lost my husband, my children and mother,” she submitted.

Western Regional Prison Commander David Koech, reassured that they are working tirelessly with other stakeholders to address the mental health issues among the inmates and any possible arising cases from the wardens.

Loice Amondi, the Kisumu mental health champion, runners-up Global Health Campaign, and Peer Educator based at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Referal and Teaching Hospital (JOORTH), has encouraged the victims to share their experiences and motivate others.

By Rolex Omondi


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