Mental health needs same sense of urgency as election campaigns

Governments should listen to young people to inform policies to address stigma and discrimination around mental health

By Kristel Jüriloo, Disability Inclusion Officer, UNICEF ESA
Brian Emmanuel Mbuthia Speaking about women's mental health at the International Day of the Girl, 11 October 2019
02 December 2021

“We need to systematically raise awareness among the public to tackle stigma around mental health. Posters are not enough.”

– Brian Emmanuel Mbuthia

Brian Emmanuel Mbuthia is a confident young Kenyan and self-advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities. In a country where speaking about mental health is still a taboo, Brian is paving the way as a positive role model breaking myths around mental health.

Brian comes from Nyeri in Central Kenya. He started to experience mental health challenges in primary school, but it took years until he was assessed by health care services. Today he receives at-home support to help him live independently.

Brian Emmanuel Mbuthia
Brian Emmanuel Mbuthia

“Access to health care services in Kenya is a challenge. One session with a mental health care professional costs almost the same as a month's rent! I cannot afford to continue my treatment right now. Because of the pandemic, my options in the job market are limited.”

– Brian

In addition to the dire situation following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brian has faced challenges with discrimination. He has faced negative perceptions and lack of reasonable accommodation. Today, Brian is a self-taught coder who has taken up consultancies on cybersecurity. He is also a visual artist and a musician writing his own music.

Sharing about his own mental health on social media, Brian established a WhatsApp group named “Stronger Forum”  also known as the Stronger Project Ke, helping over 40 young persons to speak out about their mental health and receive information and referrals to services.

The Stronger Project Logo

Using his artistic talent, Brian has been collecting, editing and designing articles from young people about mental health and made them available in an e-magazine. The Stronger Project also recently held a collaborative event for mental health champions with music, display of art and panel discussions and webinars. Brian is in the process of registering The Stronger Project Ke as a CBO that will adopt clear safeguarding policies and a governance structure.

Ahead of the 2022 Global Disability Summit, Brian urges world leaders to take this opportunity to commit to implementing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to make access to health care services affordable, sensitize health care professionals on issues of mental health, raise awareness to end the stigma around mental health, and to involve persons with disabilities.

“For policies to work, decision-makers need to understand how policies affect persons with disabilities on a day-to-day basis and to directly involve them in policy change. Nothing about us without us!”

– Brian
Brian Emmanuel Mbuthia speaking to a group
Brian Emmanuel Mbuthia at a mental health talk with the Rotary Club of Dedan Kimathi University in Nyeri in 2019.

Through UNICEF´s partner organization, the International Disability Alliance (IDA), Brian has participated in trainings to strengthen his knowledge on how to use the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons in his advocacy. UNICEF continues to work with partners like IDA to amplify the voices of children and youth with disabilities in decisions that affect them and is ensuring meaningful participation of children and youth with disabilities in the 2022 Global Disability Summit.