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Kenyatta University Commemorates World Mental Health Awareness Week with a Focus on Challenging Stigma.

On Friday, May 19th, 2023, Kenyatta University took part in the global mental health awareness week by organizing a series of activities under the theme of "Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorders - 'The Siamese Twins': Addressing the Stigma." The event, coordinated by the Department of Psychology in collaboration with various university directorates and the International Consortium of Universities on Drug Demand Reduction (ICUDDR), aimed to observe the Mental Health Month. The highlight of the week was a symbolic walk, led by Vice-Chancellor Prof. Paul Wainaina, also the Chief-Guest at the forum, which started at the university's main gate and ended at the Kenyatta University Business and Students Services Centre (BSSC).

The walk marked the opening of the Awareness Week, which coincided with the international day for global mental health education, awareness, and advocacy against social media stigma. Dr. Eunice Githae, Chairperson of the Psychology Department, delivered the welcoming remarks at BSSC Room 14, emphasizing the importance of collective action in addressing the stigma surrounding mental health. Dr. Githae stated, "We walked to discover a renewed purpose in matters of mental health, showing we don't have to walk alone because there is a stigma surrounding mental health. We should build up a synergy to make the world know who we are." She also acknowledged the participation of various university departments and sectors in the mental health awareness conversation.

Consequently, Dr. Matilda, representing Dr. Simon Njuguna, Director of Mental Health, MOH, commended Kenyatta University for organizing the event, highlighting the significance of mental health awareness for overall health and social well-being. She reiterated the Ministry of Health's commitment to addressing mental health issues and supporting such initiatives to improve mental health for the nation. Ms. Hilda Nyareso, Chief Operations Officer, Shamiri Institute - which is a data-driven organization transforming youth mental health - expressed enthusiasm for joining the initiative and highlighted the institute's app, RAFI, which has been widely embraced by Kenyatta University students. Mr. Patrick Kariuki from Wonderpeace Rehab Center expressed gratitude for the collaboration with Kenyatta University, while Ms. Susan Maua,Program Manager, NACADA, representing Prof. John Muteti, acting CEO of NACADA, emphasized the challenges posed by substance abuse, including alcohol, khat, tobacco, and cannabis.

Vice-Chancellor Prof. Paul K. Wainaina, represented by Prof. Waceke Wanjohi, DVC Academics, extended appreciation to the participants, partners, sponsors, and guests for their involvement in the procession walk. The Vice-Chancellor acknowledged the prevalence of substance abuse on campus and emphasized the university's commitment to addressing the root causes and providing support services to safeguard the mental health of both students and staff. The combination of anxiety and substance use was highlighted as a significant trigger for mental illness, reinforcing the need to combat stigma, raise awareness, and implement comprehensive interventions.

To conclude, he announced the annual observance of the event and its inclusion in the Kenyatta University calendar of events. Dr. Beatrice Kathungu, Director of Accommodation, delivered a vote of thanks, and the objectives of the mental health event were outlined, including creating awareness of mental health and associated risk factors, highlighting the relationship between mental health and substance use disorders, and addressing contemporary issues in mental health. Additional activities throughout the week included TV talk shows, webinars, outreach clinics, and the launch of support groups.

This way, Kenyatta University plays a vital role in raising awareness, challenging stigma, and promoting mental health and well-being within the community.

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