If ‘prominent’ women speak out, we can tackle mental ill-health

Tuesday April 09 2019

Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital staff and locals create awareness about mental health in Eldoret on October 7, 2016. People with mental illness should seek help. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Over the past couple of weeks, I have encountered experiences that have left me distressed in regard to the state of mental health many of our compatriots, especially women, are nursing.

It is depressing (pun intended) that many women who appear happy and comfortable in their families (read marriage) are carrying heavy mental baggage.

Many are elite women — well-educated with great jobs and big names — and the desire to keep a good family image pushes them to persevere a lot. They tolerate serious issues, including incest and sexual violence, in their homes to look “okay”.

This is a difficult and depressing topic to tackle. I came across a mother who goes through the tragedy of watching over incest in her home and share her husband with their two young daughters.


Apparently, the man of the house began sexually abusing his daughters when they were minors until they became adults, moved out to their houses and “married” him.


He caters for the girls like the infamous ‘sponsor’ and has maintained a not-so-secret polygamous arrangement with the three women. It is not so hard to imagine the mental torture for the elderly woman!

Luckily, she has since opened up to her close friends, albeit grudgingly, and is undergoing professional therapy as she battles depression.

This, however, only came about after her friends realised she was on the verge of a breakdown. Her daughters still live in the bliss of ignorance, their own bout of depression surely on the way!


Then there is this other woman who had to endure brutal physical violence and marital rape from her partner from the “safety” of their bedroom.

By the time this began spilling out, the once-confident and outgoing woman and mother, whose job entails being in the constant eye of the public, was so depressed that it seemed almost too late.

Like many women of her status, she had remained quiet ‘for the sake of her family and name’.

Then there are the women who have gone out of their way to cover-up for violent and paedophiliac partners, sometimes husbands, who rape and abuse their own children.

They ensure the abuse does not come out because they care a lot about what society will say about it. A “good” name is critical and should be protected.

It is a sad reality that so many women in this country suffer and die early due to situations they could speak themselves out of.


It’s time women, especially those in the public eye, spoke out and freed themselves from the bondage of abuse. That will go a long way in demystifying and tackling mental ill-health.

Given their prominence, they are likely to influence other women and the youth to know that it is okay not to be okay.

For as much as the women in such traumatic circumstances may not want to admit (at least in public), having faced lengthy periods of stress and suffering, they end up battling serious cases of mental illnesses.

It is encouraging that some of the women and men battling mental health issues are coming out and, consequently, bringing to light the reality that is mental ill-health. This has encouraged those not as brave as them to come out and seek help.


It is for this reason that I’m very proud of my friend and colleague, journalist Tom Osanjo, who has not only gone public about his battle with depression, but also taken up speaking engagements to help people struggling with mental health issues to, among other things, access services and professional help.

The Star newspaper’s digital editor, Oliver Mathenge, also bravely came out to similarly speak out.

He has been persistent on social media, despite some not-so-friendly reactions initially, helping and encouraging many young men and women struggling with mental illnesses as a result of different traumatic experiences.

Back to the women. Although research indicates that women do not suffer as much as men because they can (more easily) speak out to fellow women about their situation, they would be in a better position of influence if they spoke out more and to larger audiences.

Ms Rugene is a consulting editor. [email protected] @nrugeneo