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blog post cover image time estimate eye icon5min

Do you dare listen to the silence?

Have you ever tried listening to a silent scream or a silent cry for help? You see, a rose can never be a sunflower the same way a sunflower can never be a rose. A silent scream can never be heard by the human ear, the same way the human ear can never hear a silent scream.

This is the casual nexus that we are using, trying to make our ears hear what cannot be heard, whilst every 40 seconds time is stealing our common Mwananchi. Mental illnesses grow fainter in sound and if we are not careful, it will be nothing but an enigma of inaudible screams, frustrating us as we continue to ignore it.

The year was 2019, more specifically on the warm Saturday 18th May, the silence felt a chill. Sally woke up, the deafening wave of sadness hit and submerged her back into her depression. The worst part being how quietly she wept, remembering that it was her birthday, but there was nothing happy about it. Not more so why she cried, but how. Tears ran down her cheek as loud as thunder, dropping off the piercing drop on her chin. Rocking back and forth as the harsh anxiety attack surfaces, screaming with no sound for anyone to come and help. The pain in her heart was so loud with screams, she wondered why nobody could hear it.

That’s the thing about pain and suffering, it’s an invisible epoch which arrives and leaves, silent as night, but if you listen close enough you will hear it. My question is who is listening to the silent cries of our Kenyans today.

“Knock, Knock, Knock”, not expecting company Sally contemplated if she had the strength to open the door. “Knock, Knock, Knock”, she gathered what was left of her, put on her mask, and answered the door. Two men and one woman stood before her, stern, and stoic they exclaimed “Good morning, ma’am we are with the Mental Health taskforce division, and we would like to ask you a few questions about the state of mental wellbeing among Kenyans”. Her heart paced as her social anxiety re-surfaced, so much that the blessing before her lost its value. Could it be the hope she was holding on to has arrived?

They call it the Mental Health Task Force Report that tends to the wellbeing of Kenyans directed towards happiness and National Prosperity. If you were to navigate your way to Article 43 (1) of our constitution, not only would you be infatuated by its rhythm, but the promise it holds would seem spellbound. Finally, after the long and tedious search for a glimpse of happiness and prosperity, Sally faced a reality where you could hear the whisper in its voice. Immediately it became the voice that stands outs in the crowd, poised with power and authority, one that you cannot unhear or unimagine, the voice for Mental Health. As its purpose builds traction in the African Society, Mental Health grows and blooms not only in voices, but in hearts and minds of many. It’s a forest of hope for many like Sally.

Though optimistic as I read it, my reaction is much more like a dog with one tail, and as one would be under the moon. The semantics that the ‘highest offices of the land’ use to define this pressing matter, simply put, broke my heart. The use of the term “burden” to describe the nature of mental health and describing our mental health facilities as one we should be “ashamed of”, gave me mixed feelings. I first wondered why they continuously thought of Mental illness as a ‘burden’ and secondly why they were so casually ‘ashamed of’ the medical facilities. Construing the thinking of an economist rather than a compassionate human being. Although I was dazed by the revolutionary step that was being taken, I couldn’t help but weep at the lack of appreciation of the Rosetta stone in their hands.

The taskforce painted an image of mental health in our society as, the ‘entrenchment of discrimination’, ‘negligible budgetary provisions’, ‘derogatory language’ and ‘exclusion from society’, opened a paradox in the document. The problem lies in how they addressed the issue, positing that it is a monster that has engrossed its existence, folds back to the retrogressive tribalistic beliefs. It is terms like this that makes one lose faith in the attitude behind the taskforce. They use this ‘burden’ to justify the failure of our nations development and that it is through reducing the stigma that change can be effectuated. How disheartening to discover the motives not being on the outcome and wellbeing of the marginalised group. They state that words such as “wazimu” should never be coupled with mental health, yet they consider it a burden and a deterrent to the stagnant progress for the development of our country. I can’t be the only one confused and dumbfounded.

They met with 1,569 Kenyans and held hearings across the country, only to continue hearing what we have to say rather than listening. Neglecting the silent cries and the inaudible screams once again. You cannot expect a rose to look like a sunflower the same way you cannot expect a sunflower to look like a rose. The only way change is possible is if the highest officers of the land listens to the silence rather than the noise. Sympathizing with the frustration they live with everyday beyond their internal struggles, but the external stigmas, taboos, ridicule, shame, labelling’s… Instead of the perceived notion that the taskforce took, in that mental health is a “The ticking time bomb”, perhaps an optimistic disposition would colour the rainbow of mental health vibrantly in the society.

We cannot re-write the wrongs of the past, but if we do not learn from our history, we are bound to repeat it. More has become of the Mental Health space in Kenya, more can hear the silent voices and cries, but it is not enough to just hear. We need to listen and listen proactively. This is a challenge the taskforce imposed on us, a challenge with a great incentive, mental wellbeing holistically. Much can be said, but to summarise, it was a bold and courageous first step in the African society, a step I applaud and a step that needs us all to also to take to truly be impactful and meaningful to man’s dignity.

Pauline Gethi,
April 4, 2022

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