Like many women in Kenya, Joyce* is a single mother with two children, who lives with her extended family, which puts a lot of pressure on her. After a particularly violent quarrel with her mother, she walked out, and was eventually was found very disorientated, wandering the streets in Machakos town.

She was taken to Mathari Mental Hospital, and after eight months’ treatment was well enough to go home, but had lost contact with her family. The hospital got in touch with the local Kamili Clinic, who were able to track down her family, and took her to meet them.

However, when Joyce arrived home, her family were frightened to see her, remembering her erratic behaviour when she had left. Luckily Edith, a Kamili worker was there to mediate with the family, and when they realised she had been cured were overjoyed to welcome her back. Now she is able to spend the time enjoying bringing up her two children. Luckily, Kamili was also able to persuade Mathari Mental Hospital to waive the £2500 for her treatment.

Joyce’s story is typical of the work that the Kamili clinics carry out with thousands of patients each year. In 2017 alone the three Kamili clinics in Kenya saw nearly 10,000 patients, and carried out a total of 16,530 clinical consultations.

As the story illustrates, one of the important roles that Kamili-trained staff carry out is to visit families to help reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. In 2017 they carried out 16 home visits to educate families on how to handle people who suffer psychological problems.

Kamili nurses

Long-term prospects, not short term medication

James* is another patient who successfully passed through a Kamili clinic, where his bizarre and intimidating behaviour was diagnosed as drug-induced psychosis, after his history of drug abuse stretching back many years.

After months of psychotherapy at Kamili, he was ready to enrol in one of the clinic’s occupational therapy programmes, where he discovered a talent for creative crochet and tailoring. He’s now set on starting a career to develop this, setting up his own retail outlet in the Zambesi village where he comes from.

As part of his cure James enrolled in the Kamili Loaning and Savings Scheme set up to help its patients get back on their feet. This was set up after Kamili staff realised one aspect of curing people was to offer them prospects for the future, with a mantra to ‘offer long-term healing, rather than short-term medication’. Last year Kamili clinics gave a total of 163 loans to ex-patients.

Supporting epileptic teenagers

Although not technically a mental health problem, epilepsy can be debilitating. Kamili runs a number of group therapy workshops, including one for epileptic teenagers, and a recent one brought together 18 teenagers suffering from epilepsy and their caregivers. For John*, who is epileptic, the clinic’s approach has been life-changing. "I used to have seizures once a day. I had to quit my job. My mum was so worried. Since getting medication and counselling from Kamili, I can live a normal life again", he says.

Mental health in Kenya – woefully underfunded

Mental health in Kenya has always been under-funded, accounting for only 0.5% of the national health budget. There is the added complication that symptoms of mental illness are often seen as indications of black magic and witchcraft, so many patients are shunned, finding themselves outcasts from society.

It was this that prompted Melanie Blake, a trained psychiatric nurse and long-term Kenyan resident to establish Kamili in 2009. Kamili now runs clinics in Lower Kabate, Kihara and Kangemi, with support from donors via Bread and Water for Africa UK, and is one of the main providers of mental health in the country.

In order to improve mental health provision across Kenya, Kamili provides scholarships for nurses who want to undergo psychiatric nurse training, including in-house training and experience at the three Kamili clinics. Altogether they have sponsored 31 mental health nurses in the last six years, and hope to sponsor a further seven nurses this year.

Melanie Blake accepting her MBE from HM Queen Elizabeth II.

Melanie Blake MBE - international recognition

Melanie Blake’s unflagging commitment and determination to provide affordable mental health in Kenya over the last eight year has resulted in her being awarded an MBE (Master of the British Empire) for service to mental health in Kenya, and she returned to the UK to be presented with this by Queen Elizabeth in January 2017. In an ironic turn, after years overcoming government obstacles to run Kamili clinics, the Kamili model of mental health provision is now included in government plans.

You can help Kamili continue its work, by supporting our Mental Health Appeal today.

*Names of patients were changed to protect their privacy.

Daphne Davies is a Volunteer Journalist at Bread and Water for Africa UK.

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