Janet’s Story: The Impact of Helping Patients Navigate Family Relationships

Personal Stories of Living with Mental Illness in Kenya

Janet* is a woman who previously faced family rejection. She was the first-born and lived with relatives after being orphaned at a young age. For many years, she has lived with bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder with on-and-off treatment requiring frequent admissions to hospital mental health units. The family experienced challenges with each hospital admission, including addressing behavior before the admission, paying for the admission, and needing to bring Janet to the hospital at unscheduled times. The family delayed taking her home following some discharges with concerns about how to support her, which sometimes led to long hospital stays.

People living with severe mental illness in Kenya often depend on their families for social, economic, and emotional support. Relatives often accompany patients to clinic appointments, assist them in taking their medications, and support basic daily needs. In cases when family members are unable or unwilling to care for a relative with mental illness, the AMPATH team works with the individual to develop an independent path to develop family and community support systems.

Janet was eventually admitted to the MTRH Nawiri Recovery & Skills Centre, the first recovery home and skills center in Kenya for adults with severe mental illness, where she worked to understand her illness and manage her symptoms, learn how to reduce relapses, and gain skills that would empower her to live independently. She also learned beadmaking as part of the vocational training program.

Six months after her discharge, Janet was living independently in a rental house. She now attends her monthly clinic visits and refills her medication as scheduled. She earns her living making bracelets using her Nawiri Centre training and supplements this work with casual jobs like washing clothes for her neighbors. Although Janet no longer has the support of her family, she can support herself and live independently. 

With the growing prevalence of mental illness among some of the world’s most vulnerable populations, the Astellas Global Health Foundation supports initiatives to improve access to mental healthcare diagnosis and treatment services for patients and caregivers in low- and middle-income countries. Since 2018, the Foundation has partnered with the Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare (AMPATH), through the Indiana University Center for Global Health Equity and in partnership with Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, to expand mental health services and education to more than 500,000 people in Western Kenya. Here are just a few stories of people who have been reached.

To further extend this impact, the Foundation is running its first global employee fundraising campaign in June and July 2024 to support people in Kenya with mental illness. Every dollar donated helps patients with skills-building and income-generating activities to rebuild their lives after successful therapy in AMPATH’s projects.

AMPATH is a partnership among Moi University, Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, a global network of academic health centers led by Indiana University, and the Kenyan Government. The AMPATH mission is “to improve the health of people in underserved communities by working in partnership with academic health centers, ministries of health and others to build public sector health systems and promote well-being.” Learn more about the incredible impact AMPATH is making in Kenya on its website.

*All names have been changed.