A chat with Sheldon Angayiah is punctuated with hearty jokes, which he cracks almost effortlessly.
The 28-year-old comedian radiates youthful vitality and cheerfulness never departs his countenance. Nothing about him suggests any health condition, much less a mental health issue.
For 10 years, though, Sheldon has gone through the wringer with a severe bipolar disorder, with every episode of the condition leaving his social and professional life torn asunder.
The condition first struck in 2009, shortly before he joined Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology to study mass communication.
“For four years, I experienced serious mood fluctuations. I would be hyperactive at one time only to turn melancholic the next moment. I became highly irritable and lost my appetite. Each episode lasted a few days before I regained my emotional stability,” he tells the Saturday Nation.
Even as he went through this emotional rollercoaster, neither he nor his parents knew that his might be a medical (mental) condition.
Upset by his occasional mood swings, his parents even accused him of using drugs, and nearly isolated him.
He went through his first major relapse in 2013, one week after he had begun his academic attachment. This would mark his moment of truth.
“I could barely contain myself and would blabber for long, mostly about immaterial things. I was not violent, but I was very restless, making it hard for my colleagues to work,” he recounts.
Sheldon’s condition expressed itself in irrational generosity, and at one time he gave out his smartphone to a street beggar.
A few days later, he donated all his clothes to a children’s facility.
“At the marketing department where I was working, I was very erratic. I would irregularly give out company merchandise to people, without consulting my supervisors,” he says, adding that whenever he was confronted, he lost his temper and retreated.
His deteriorating condition prompted his father, also an employee of the company, to seek medical attention for him.
“For the first time, I met someone who was willing to listen to me without antagonising me. The psychiatrist was patient with me and allowed me to express myself freely. It is then that she diagnosed me with bipolar disorder,” he says.
Sheldon was put on medication and under scrutiny, with regular assessments with the doctor.
He would enjoy an improved emotional state before crashing again a few months later.
“As time went by, getting sleep became harder and I started to gain weight. Expressing anger, joy and other emotions also became difficult for me. I would bottle up emotions before imploding,” he says.
While he may not have experienced stigma, Sheldon admits that the condition cost him important relationships, among them three girlfriends in a space of four years.
“I lost several close friends too mostly because of my erratic behaviour. Bipolar attacks are fitful and a nightmare when they occur. Maintaining long-term relationships became harder for me as fewer and fewer people could tolerate my overreactions,” he regrets.
As an escape from this emotional whirlwind, Sheldon became addicted to pornography, started to engage in illegitimate sexual behaviour and taking irrational risks. Thereafter, he would slide back to depression and rue.
“I was never bothered by the consequences of my actions. I once jumped from the balcony of an upper floor to one on a lower floor of a mental facility. It was not a suicidal act but an overflow of confidence,” he says.
Every time he worked at an organisation, Sheldon would be under the illusion that he had solutions to all the problems at the workplace, often putting him at cross-purposes with his colleagues and supervisors.
“I would try to outperform myself in everything I did. One time I demanded three times the amount of stipend that I was entitled to as an intern at a certain car manufacturer. My boss was angry and he immediately terminated my contract. This dismissal devastated me,” he says.
In a different instance, Sheldon had drifted off the script during a stage performance owing to his overconfidence.
Angered, the audience booed him. “I was wounded emotionally and stormed out of the stage in fury. It took me one week to recover,” he recounts.
His condition exhibits symptoms of both mania and depressive moments, shifting from one to the other extreme end of mental state, and leaving him broken.
His lowest moment came in 2014 when, in a fit of rage after clashing with a group of sex workers in Nairobi, he stripped and was arrested for public disturbance and put in police custody.
He says the drugs used to manage bipolar are very strong, and often leave the patient in a state of dullness and suppression.
Besides the side effects, the high cost of the medication left his family cash-strapped.
“Each of the three types of medication ranges from Sh2,400 to Sh3,000. That I would be on these drugs throughout my life tormented me, only I did not have a choice but to keep taking them,” he says.
In 2016 though, circumstances forced him to stop taking his medication, an abrupt and dicey move that put him at risk of falling back to the pit.
He goes on: “While I was a student, I was covered under my father’s health insurance. The cover expired upon my graduation. I did not want to burden my parents who were struggling to fend for my younger siblings.”
After quitting his medication and psychotherapy, Sheldon embarked on what he terms ‘spiritual therapy’ and meditation, which are facilitated by Chiromo Lane Medical Centre, both of which he says have worked for him.
“The facility is promoting a different method of healing that is spiritual in nature. Our support group meets on Wednesday evening where we read the scriptures together and talk about our condition and perform personality tests. Company is very important as it helps to keep you from sliding into depression,” he explains.
“The last time I had a major relapse was in 2017. From that time, I have been feeling better by the day. I have not seen a psychiatrist during this period,” he says with evident relief.
Fits still occur, but they are fewer, less severe and the episodes are shorter than before, he says.
For two years now, in a slow but steady process, Sheldon has been on a recovery journey. However, he says he cannot work in a formal environment lest his condition gets in the way of his job.
Be that as it may, Sheldon has reconciled with his circumstances, and now dedicates his efforts to building his brand called “Naitwa Sheldon” that specialises in hosting events.
“I am invited to emcee weddings, book and product launches and entertainment events. From these gigs, I earn enough money to comfortably cater for myself,” he tells Saturday Nation.
Fear of rejection and social exclusion, he says, keeps people with bipolar disorder from coming out to talk about their condition, and argues this is why support groups for such people are uncommon.
In Kenya, Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (USP) is the main organisation that offers support to people who have been diagnosed with psychiatric issues.
USP was established in 2007 and is mainly concerned with advocacy and creating awareness to address stigma and discrimination targeted at persons with psychosocial disabilities and to promote their inclusion at various levels of social life.
The organisation also provides psychosocial peer support. It has two chapters in Nyeri and Kiambu counties, while Nairobi and Nakuru counties have one chapter each.
“I have learned that bipolar disorder is not a disease. Neither is it a personality as people tend to imagine. It is just a condition. One that you can live with if well-managed. I have accepted my condition,” he says.
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow
Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.