Mental Health and Wellness

Home of Brains, A Centre for Mental Health Support

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The Home of Brains sign is too big to ignore, photo by Monica Guya

  • 62 psychiatrist’s and 500 nurses for 47 million people
  • Western nations allocate 10% of the health budget to mental health
  • Developing nations allocate less than 1%

A few weeks ago, I asked online users where in Kisumu I could find a support group or centre for mentally ill persons and quite a number suggested Home of Brains.

With an estimated 1 in every 4 Kenyan suffering from mental ill health, Kenya has only 62 psychiatrists and 500 psychiatric nurses for a population of 47 million people according to Kenya’s mental health policy 2015-2030.

Seeing a gap in the mental health sector, Roy Otieno, Executive Director of Tinada Youth Organization thought it wise to add mental health awareness as one of their programs in addition to youth empowerment, human rights and, early childhood development.

‘Working with the youth, I come across many young people suffering from various mental health issues but can’t access care due to cost or unavailability of personnel. Thus our focus centers on prevention, therapy, rehabilitation and research,’ says Otieno.

Run in partnership with German-based NGO On The Move, Home of Brains initially began in 2016 as the Brain Awareness Initiative (BAI). The initiative targeted schools, churches and community centres sensitizing locals on ways to keep their brains healthy through wellness and diet.

Upon realising vulnerable groups such as the LGBT and the elderly were being left out, the program evolved into the Mental Health Integrated program (MHIP) focusing on all groups in turn birthing Home of Brains.

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The centre focuses on prevention, therapy, rehabilitation, and research, through various activities such as individual and group counseling, mental health education sessions and the mentorship and rehabilitation of street children.

Origin of Support Groups

Mental health support groups can be traced back to late 18th century France when Jean Baptiste Pussin, a hospital superintendent wrote to Philippe Pinel, a physician instrumental in advocating for the humane treatment of mental patients,

‘As much as possible all servants are chosen from the category of mental patients. They are at any rate better suited to this demanding work because they are usually more gentle, honest and humane…’

The movement resurrected once more in the USA in the mid-sixties and seventies through the Mental Health Consumer Movement. Former psychiatric patients came out against popular procedures such as lobotomy, a surgical operation involving incision into the prefrontal lobe of the brain.

They advocated for peer-run services as an alternative based on the principal that individuals who have shared similar experiences can help themselves and each other through self-help and mutual support.

Mr. Otieno agrees with these sentiments, with his organization advocating for grassroots community mental health centres as a better option to the more traditional health system of hospitals.

Roy Otieno, Executive Director at Tinada Organization which runs Home of Brains Kisumu, photo by Monica Guya

‘We need to take mental health services to the people and increased funding is the only way we can achieve that. The government last year allocated only 5% of the budget to health, a very small portion of that goes into mental health,’ says Otieno.

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Although there has been a 115% increase in money allocated to health over the last five years from Ksh. 41.70 billion in the 2013/14 fiscal year to Ksh. 90 billion in 2018/19, mental health services are still lacking.

Norway and Germany which have some of the most progressive mental health services apportion 10% of their total health budget to mental health, compared to developing nations’ 1% or less (WHO).

 ‘Within my own backyard of the non-profit world, there are very few organizations that want to get into mental health. Yet we can’t ignore the growing need for mental health services in today’s world,’ says Mr. Otieno.

Lack of adequate funds and staffs trickles down, affecting Home of Brains’ ability to run their programs with only one psychologist involved with the program and who comes on call.

Even with these limited resouces, the centre is a beacon of hope, signaling a brighter future for mental health in the western Kenya region and Kenya at large.

However, there is hope on the horizon as Tinada was chosen as one of the CSOs that would help pilot the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) program in Kisumu County as part of the Lake Region Public Benefits Organizations (LRPBO).

‘The (LRPBO) is a consortium of CSOs that lobby’s the government into channelling more resources into mental health. Through this partnership we are working to ensure when UHC is rolled out in 2022, mental health will be a priority,’ adds Mr. Otieno.

As a stakeholder in mental health issues, he urges the government to focus on grassroots mobilization and community mental health support groups, involving the whole community in the treatment and overall wellbeing of mentally ill patients.

He also recommends that educative radio programs, particularly through the vernacular radio stations will cast a wider net onto a wider audience on issues mental health.

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