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Whipped and Stripped! A Survivor’s Tale of Harrowing Brutality in a Mental Hospital

Through an a public petition, John Mwangi is pushing for dignified care for mental health patients in Kenya

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In August 2023, the Kenyan government revealed that 4 out of 10 Kenyans suffer from mental illnesses and publicly admitted that the public mental health infrastructure in the country is overwhelmed. The lack of a long-term vision and inadequate resourcing of mental hospital infrastructures continues to take a toll on Kenya’s mentally ill patients.

John Wainaina Mwangi, a Nguvu Change Leader from Nakuru County, and a survivor of severe abuse in a mental health facility has launched an online petition with a haunting personal account of the abuse he faced.

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“I was locked up, whipped, and stripped,” Mr Mwangi narrates his experience. “I endured solitary confinement, physical abuse and a denial of basic human dignity in a mental healthcare facility. There was no one to speak for me when I was suffering.”

Now, as a mental health advocate, Mr Mwangi says he is speaking up to ensure that no one faces traumatic experiences in places that are supposed to offer help and healing. His experience underscores systemic issues prevalent in Kenya’s mental healthcare system. And his petition is an attempt to expose the harsh realities within these care centres.

In December 2021, a research report published in the National Library of Medicine assessed the human rights record of a large mental hospital in Kenya, and observed 5 key gaps:buildings and infrastructure in a state of disrepair; inadequate staffing; patients have no right to legal capacity; gross neglect of patients as well as physical and verbal abuse; and no strategies in place to support community reintegration and independent living.

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According to Mr Mwangi, the Constitution of Kenya (2010) guarantees every citizen equal access to the highest attainable health standards while section 51 of the Mental Health Act (Rev. 2012) mandates that any person within a mental hospital who harms, mistreats, abuses, or neglects patients is guilty of an offence.

However, despite these legal safeguards, numerous human rights violations persist without being challenged or justice being accessed.  “It’s time to translate these rights into tangible reforms within our mental health care system,” says Mr Mwangi. “Untreated mental health problems are a ticking time-bomb. Urgent action is needed to ensure that those who need support don’t endure distress in silence due to fear and prejudice.”

Mr Mwangi’s petition, launched through his Psychosocial Development and Response Organization, urges Kenya’s Health Ministry to intervene and ensure sensitisation training for staff in mental health facilities on human and patient rights.

On the occasion of Human Rights Day to be marked on 10th December 2023, John Mwangi, who is Nguvu Change Leader John Mwangi, has appealed for dignified care for mental health patients in Kenya. The 2023 theme is Freedom, Equality, and Justice for All.

He believes that stringent action to counter the kind of abuse he has suffered will encourage people to seek treatment without fear. “Every human being deserves to feel safe while seeking help to address a mental health crisis,” he says. “Ostracising such a person and abusing their trust should not be normalised especially in mental health facilities. It is time to change this narrative once and for all.”

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Bill Yaura is a Correspondent for Business Today. He can be reached on email: [email protected]
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