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Tabitha Mwai: Snatched from the clutches of depression

A graduate of Journalism and Mass Communication from Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology – Tabitha Mwai sunk into depression after the relationship she was in went sour.

Brave and strong enough to tackle whatever came her way. Tabitha, a counselor, author, proprietor and an entrepreneur has triumphed to impact the community in many facets.

Like every other young woman who has battled with rejection and the prying eyes of the society, at a tender age, she had to flout the negativity she was facing and discover her purpose, more like the popular axiom to make lemons out of lemonades.

Studies in Kenya show that one out of four people suffer from a mental health condition. Yet there is an acute shortage of professional mental health specialists – such as counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists.

Tabitha who holds a Diploma in Social Work and Community Development recalls being in a five – year romantic relation with her then boyfriend and everyone in her life anticipating that the relationship was destined for down the aisle. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out despite her efforts to mend their difference.

Tabitha, a counselor, author, proprietor and an entrepreneur who spearhead fight against depression in society. Photo Courtesy

The relationship led to pregnancy and she had to deal with the rejection independently, without support from her family, friends and the father of her baby.

Life dawned on her that she was going to be a single mother and now she had this young baby who was solely dependent on her. Feeling dejected, overwhelmed and hopeless for becoming a mom at a young age, she felt unequipped and consequently questioning her new title and responsibilities.

She didn’t have anyone to turn to for comfort since everyone was judging her. The only friend who had her back, suddenly died in a road accident. “As I went through grief, I lost myself,” she says.

Tabitha goes further to say that she looked for support online from people going through similar situations and luckily enough, she together with other single moms from Facebook formed a group of strangers called ‘super moms’ where together they built a strong bond and managed to be each other’s pillar.

With a smile on her face says they now call themselves ‘champions’ since they have triumphed and developed a ‘tough skin’. She then later started going through self-development programs, thus leading to her foundation as a relationship couch.

Mwai credits faith, being a major principal to her road to recovery from depression and loss. Having been away from church for almost two years, she narrates that she had the thirst for religion and a spiritual void which needed to be quenched.

She would read the Bible, and other faith based books during her solace for guidance, healing and strength. “At the moment of vulnerability and despair, the only thing that make sense is faith,” says the soft spoken lady.

Her book “Grieving after loss” which has sold worldwide, was written after losing a vital friend who pushed her to always prioritize her wellbeing. She was able to start her company. She remembers being in agony and in denial after getting the tragic news that shifted her mind to understanding grief.

Latest estimates from World Health Organization, shows that more than 300 million people globally are now living with depression.

The Ministry of Health noted that depression is now the leading cause of disability worldwide accounting 10 per cent and a major contributor to the overall Global burden of disease at 4.3 per cent.

Mwai notes that the stigma attached to mental illness is very real and it causes many people to suffer in silence. Many feel sad, weak and ashamed. She also prides herself in creating content that builds and uplifts those in agony.

“Mental health disorders are among the top contributors to the global burden of CDC, where people who suffer from mental health issues face stigma and discrimination,” remarks NHIF Chairman, Lewis Nguyai, during the opening of Bustani Level Five Hospital, to mark the 25th Anniversary of The Chiromo Mental Health Hospital designed to provide dignified healthcare.

During the event, H.E  first Lady Margret Kenyatta, an advocate of mental health and the pioneer of the ‘Beyond Zero’ campaign, urged people to have serious conversation in accelerating intervention on mental health and mental wellness as part of the global sustainable goals.

“The chronic nature of mental health and the rapid increase in the numbers of individuals affected by mental illness has heightened focus in the country and worldwide especially during this unprecedented times of the Covid-19 pandemic”, noted First Lady Margaret.

The government has announced plans to upgrade and rename Mathari Mental Hospital, which is the only National Referral Mental Hospital to a National Teaching and Referral Neuropsychiatric Centre that will be located on a larger ground of 200 acres in Karen. It is expected to provide better care and more rooms and adequate space outside of Nairobi. Currently there is one psychiatrist per million population.

Tabitha narrates how her dream came to flourish despite having been employed for too long.

“I felt that I was able to do more, but given that I was employed, there was very little I could do,” she mentions.

She then came to the realisation that her friends came to her for advice. More like the friend with the voice of reason in the midst of chaos, she finally decided to cast her fears aside and pursue her dream which led to the birth of her company ‘Digital Scroll Media’ in 2015.

Tabitha has been part of the ‘Harness Your Brilliance’ course at PassionBiz Academy and says that the course helped her to build confidence within herself.

“Initially I was afraid of doing business alone because of the financial insecurity, but I have learned to trust in my own magic, follow my passion and do my best,” she says.

Her company cuts across all divide from media, corporate industry, education, Non-Governmental Organization (NGOs) to Community Based Organizations (CBO), helping them map out their communication strategies in order to realise their goal.

“In this day and age, one cannot ignore the power of social media. Even companies once thought to be traditional in their marketing methods, have adopted social media marketing strategies,” she states.

Dr. Frank Njenga, Chairman Chiromo Hospital Groups and Presidential Advisor on matters mental health, during the facilities 25th Anniversary, was proud to share a few of his patients experience and their success history. Dr. Njenga said that mental health exists and is real and is manageable if as a country, people unite, pull forces and resource together.

Having been represented with the Volunteer Impacts Awards, Tabitha is also a blogger that tells her stories on relationships, focusing on sexual reproductive health and mental health titled ‘Decent conversations’. She started her blog after a strong conviction from the dysfunctional relationship that she was in. She says her blog is supposed to stir the society to engage in topics deemed too taboo to talk about.

She is now equipping and empowering young girls through her blog, podcast and various programs like the ‘star mom day program’ containing 10 steps towards healing, reconciliation and transformation and also through engaging in decent conversation on sexual health and mental health.

Depression is common among pregnant adolescents in urban resource-deprived areas of Kenya and is correlated with well-documented risk factors such as being of a younger age.

Pregnancies within urban settlements is reported to predispose young girls to adverse mental health and psychosocial adversities, notably depression. Depression in Sub-Saharan Africa is a leading contributor to years with disability (YLD).

Apart from media consultancy, trainings, blogging, coaching and decent conversations initiative, Tabitha has deep interests in community work, volunteer work and youth Mentorship.

She volunteers at Kenya Red Cross Society and a Good Deeds Day Champion, involving Volunteer Organizations’ society.

In 2019, President Uhuru Kenyatta directed the Ministry of Health to establish a Taskforce on the status of mental health in the country and to come up with new policies owing to the growing concerns about mental health.

Mental illness is a general term for a group of illnesses that may include symptoms that can affect a person’s thinking, perceptions, mood or behaviour. It can make it difficult for someone to cope with work, relationships and other demands.

A Taskforce Report on Mental Health of Kenya of July 2020 recommended that mental illness should be declared a national emergency of epidemic proportions, to prioritize mental health as a public health and socioeconomic agenda. There is, therefore, an urgent need for an increase in dedicated institutions and more professionals to cater for mental health patients on the continent.

Some of the common mental health issues and mental illnesses include; anxiety disorders, behavioral and emotional disorders in children, bipolar affective disorder, depression, eating disorders, dissociation and dissociative disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, paranoia, post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), psychosis and schizophrenia.

The trained counselor is bridging this gap and enhancing access to self-development services to Kenyans in different areas, including communities in remote and rural regions.

By Lydia Midani

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