It was about seven months ago that I was selected as a mentor for U-TENA's RISE Project. Around twelve mentors and I sat in a room as we went through problem management plus training that World Health Organization developed. The goal of the Problem Management Plus (PM+) project is to design and demonstrate global feasibility of an evidence-based, low intensity intervention for common mental disorders and to engage strategic action in mental health care provision of this kind. This process involves systematic translation and cultural adaptation of the PM+ manual, training para-professionals and supporting them in delivering the intervention, through regular supervision.
PM+, in individual and group format, is an innovative psychological intervention which provides clients with skills to improve their management of practical problems (e.g., unemployment, interpersonal conflict etc.) and associated common mental health problems, via the provision of four strategies: problem solving counselling plus stress management, behavioral activation and strengthening social support.
Having worked as a youth advocate in the field of sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) at the youth friendly center in my locality, this gave me a great opportunity to learn skills that have helped me to be of service to my community in that manner. Since most youth mental illness stems from SRHR-related matters, it was important to have more mental health skills.
For the RISE project implemented by U-Tena Youth Organization, 120 school-going adolescents were the targeted beneficiaries. In some ways, it's easy to question whether an adolescent as young as eleven can suffer from mental illness. World health organization figures state that one in six people are between ages 10 and 19. A global burden of disease and injury resulting from mental health conditions afflicts 16.6% of people aged 10-19. The majority of mental health conditions begin by the age of 14, but a significant amount of them go untreated or undetected.
With a list of one hundred and twenty adolescent’s mentees, the pre assessment tool was able to understand and highlight the approximate statistics stated by world health organization. Out of 120, 44 had to attend six individual sessions on problem management as per the pre assessment results. Depending on their progress, they will need to receive all six sessions or be referred to a psychologist if they need more help.
When the identified mentees came for their first individual session, they displayed various forms of mental instability, problems, challenges arising from the home (family feuds, domestic violence, etc.). Having come from different families, each of the mentees possessed a different personality, viewpoint and perspective on life.
The problem stemming from their lives was triggered by the community. That same community was not supportive or caring. Consequently, they seek validation from their parents, teachers, and friends that never happened, resulting in them engaging in immoral behaviors and disregarding them as a means to escape from reality. It was necessary to utilize different strategies and mechanisms in dealing with them as a mentor.
It was important to put myself at their level. Opening up has been a problem for the first two sessions. Trust issues were the barrier. After several sessions, the mentees gained a more positive outlook on life, and they became more engaged, focused, devoted, committed, and zealous and disciplined as they recognized the potential of life and the ways in which they can achieve their dreams and goals.
In addition, their psychological state began to drastically improve and even making them more open to certain sensitive information regarding their family, friends, or teachers. Due to the confidentiality I bestowed on them and ensured throughout the entire session, this process was accelerated. As a result of the 3 PM+ session, mentees were in an improved mental state. Changing their mental state opened the doors to gaining behavioral changes that boosted their relationship and interactions with family and friends.
As a youth advocate at a youth-friendly center in my community, I came into contact with individuals battling mental illness because I was known by my community. After getting trained in PM+, the process began working step by step. I support clients out of the project from my community who were in need of mental support. The feedback and support I received from my supervisor helped me go through with the client until normalcy was established and the client being in a state of managing their problems.
With such particular skills, I managed to support five clients from my community who were outside the project to solve their problems. Knowing the cost for seeing a psychologist, I am impressed by how well the tools developed helps clients find their way to some sort of resolution to their problem. The vast majority of clients I have assisted are at my peer level. As I observe youths going through a severe mental illness phase, especially in the form of Corona virus - I have realized that youths today are experiencing a number of mental illnesses.
An awareness campaign about mental health needs to be emphasized heavily. Our financial, social and physical downfall is attributed to this monster. There needs to be an end to hiding mental matters under the table and raising them to our attention. A comprehensive strategy that provides enough resources, creating an environment for debriefing and welfare services to help tackle mental health issues in our workplace, schools and churches will be the beginning of our revamp.
Done by: Joseph Macharia
Editor: Muthoni Kamau
Author: Joseph Macharia Kimemia is the Youth Advocate for Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), a peer champion, and a freelance photographer. He mentors adolescents at U-Tena for RISE Project on mental Health. He was selected by MYSA and Nairobits to create awareness regarding how Youth Friendly Centers can be used to be helpful among the youths in the informal settlements of Viwandani to demand and access quality health services. As part of U-Tena's photography initiatives, he won an award in the category of Covid-19, sponsored by Fleischer Foundation Kenya, in a photo competition dubbed Sharing Mukuru.