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THEATRE REVIEW: Play stirs up mental health talks

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By MARION MAINA
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When I saw the poster for the play, “Night, Mother” staged by Sanifu Productions and ACT Kenya, a wave of sadness washed over me.

The lone figure hunched at the edge of the bed. Frustrated, angry, bitter and tired. The despair was palpable and as I skimmed through the captions, mental health buzzwords jumped at me. Depression…sadness…suicide…help!

The play, written by Marsha Norman and winner of the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, is about a young woman called Jessie (Rachel Kostrna) who moves in with her widowed mother (Julisa Rowe) after her divorce.

The entire play takes place in one scene, unfolding the events of one evening; the evening Jessie discloses to her mother her plans kill herself.

Jessie (Rachel Kostrna) and her mother (Julisa Rowe) share an emotional moment on stage during the play 'Night, mother' at the Kenya National Theatre.

Jessie (Rachel Kostrna) and her mother (Julisa Rowe) share an emotional moment on stage during the play ‘Night, mother’ at the Kenya National Theatre. PHOTO| MARION MAINA

Life has not been rosy for Jessie. She is epileptic, divorced and jobless, and every day feels worse than the day before. She is ready to put an end to her misery by taking her own life.

Her mother tries to talk her out of it and employs various techniques, including narrating fond memories of Jessie’s childhood. She points out that there would be no one to take care of her once Jessie is gone and even attempts to make a mean cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows, but this doesn’t help change Jessie’s mind.

On this very important evening, Jessie’s mother reveals many secrets she has kept from Jessie, in an effort to persuade her not to quit life.

Far from it, the secrets only strengthen Jessie’s resolve to end her now confirmed miserable life.

For instance, she is horrified to discover that she suffered epileptic fits all through her childhood.

She had been under the impression that her fits only began when she fell off a horse that her husband had convinced her to ride. She also learns that her ex-husband cheated on her with a random farm girl.

In-between the shocking discoveries and a mother’s earnest plea to a daughter who is hell-bent on killing herself, a lot of emotions and deep reflections reverberate from the stage throughout the packed auditorium.

Jessie's mother pleads with her to consider holding one a little longer instead of ending her life, in the play 'Night, mother' staged by ACT Kenya and Sanifu Productions.

Jessie’s mother pleads with her to consider holding one a little longer instead of ending her life, in the play ‘Night, mother’ staged by ACT Kenya and Sanifu Productions. PHOTO| MARION MAINA

EXCELLENT STAGE MANAGEMENT

The producers of the play did a commendable job with the stage setting, sound and lighting. The cast was dressed in comfortable nightwear perfect for a typical evening at home.

The props were well placed, for instance, we see Jessie refilling candy bags, cleaning out the fridge, writing reminder lists for her elderly mother and calling the store to place orders for fresh supplies, seeing that she does not intend to be around for much longer.

Stage management was excellent with the kitchen and dining area on one end of the stage and the living room on the far end.

The bedroom, where Jessie eventually shoots herself dead behind the locked door, was at the backstage.

The play was in English. And despite the sullen theme, there was a little humour that created the perfect emotional rollercoaster for the audience.

For instance, when Jessie’s mother asks her what is troubling her, Jessie says: “Everything between you, me and North Korea.”

Another time, Jessie asks her mother what the epileptic fits look like and she says: “You crumble down like a puppet as if someone cut all your strings at the same time and your eyes get this big,” she explains while gesturing.

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Jessie and her mother take a trip down memory lane on their last evening together in the play 'Night, mother'.

Jessie and her mother take a trip down memory lane on their last evening together in the play ‘Night, mother’. PHOTO| MARION MAINA

The use of analogies further reinforces the theme for the play – depression and suicide. For instance, Jessie compares her life to a crowded stuffy bus and the only way to find relief is to get off the bus whether or not it has arrived at the destination.

What stood out for me in the play was learning that the cast were directing each other while on stage.

Their skills were exemplary, capturing all the intense emotions throughout the play from Jessie’s frustrations, anger, bitterness and resoluteness, to her mother’s despair, denial, guilt-tripping, threats, manipulation, determination, resilience, and, finally, acceptance.

Rachel Kostrna who plays Jessie, is a professional American actor and has performed in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival—the largest regional theatre in America; whereas Julisa Rowe has been acting and directing for more than 30 years in America, Kenya and across the globe.

Jessie remains adamant on her resolve to commit suicide despite her mother's pleading in the play 'Night, mother.'

Jessie remains adamant on her resolve to commit suicide despite her mother’s pleading in the play ‘Night, mother.’ The play was staged as a platform to raise awareness on mental illnesses such as depression and suicide. PHOTO| MARION MAINA

If you are a theatre fan like me, you know the drill; get your ticket, watch the play and once the cast takes a bow you give a round of applause and go home.

I was already gathering my bags when Mildred Sakina, a producer at Sanifu Productions, announced that a panel of mental health experts from Mental 360 and Amani Counselling Centre would help the audience synthesise the emotive play we had just watched.

A sigh of relief swept across the solemn auditorium; I bet everyone was grateful for a chance to unpack the emotions triggered by the gunshot sound emanating from Jessie’s room at the end of the play.

The experts talked about depression and suicidal tendencies and pointed out some of the tell-tale signs of someone suffering from mental illness.

Using the example of Jessie’s frustrations, including isolation from others because she hardly left the house, we were educated on what to look out for and how to support mentally ill patients.

The faces behind the phenomenal play, ' Night, Mother,' that was staged at the Kenya National Theatre by Sanifu Productions and ACT Kenya.

The faces behind the phenomenal play, ‘ Night, Mother,’ that was staged at the Kenya National Theatre by Sanifu Productions and ACT Kenya. PHOTO| MARION MAINA

We were cautioned, for instance, against asking a suicide survivor why they had attempted to take their lives.

In that forum, members of the audience contributed their views, questions, and a couple of them were bold enough to share their personal experiences as victims of mental illness. Additional information on mental health was handed out on fliers placed at the exit of the auditorium.

Mental illness is one of the issues today’s society is grappling with and although awareness is being raised by various organisations and experts, a lot still remains to be done.

One of the counsellors pointed out that in Kenya, there is a dire need to demystify counselling and debunk the myth that therapy is a preserve of the affluent in society or a western concept.

The play offered a great platform to fan the conversation around mental health and it would be great to have it staged once more.



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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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.

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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.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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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

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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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.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

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.

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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.

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