I remember years ago when I was part of a team that was offering psycho education in health facilities around Nairobi and neighboring areas like Kiambu. One thing was apparent; many patients who portrayed symptoms of common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety would often go home without as much as having the state of their mental health assessed.
They would have their symptoms such as headaches, backache and gastrointestinal problems managed and they would go home without being seen by any mental health professional, not even a social worker to evaluate what sort of circumstances they were living in.
Something else I learned is that in most cases, people who struggle with common mental disorders are struggling with some stressful conditions back home such as a loved one with a substance use disorder, violence or some other form of abuse. Without history taking, their conditions would not be properly managed.
Needless to say, these patients would be back at the health facilities over and over again and the management of their symptoms would continue.
There is a glaring shortage of mental health professionals in many medical facilities in Kenya, especially at the grassroot. Most neighborhoods have a few clinics operated by private practitioners. Government health facilities are not as many and they range from level two (health centre) to level 6 (national referral hospital).
Over the years I have interacted with many young psychologists, some of them young graduates and others still pursuing their studies at various universities around the country. On thing that is unfortunate is that when I meet with them years later, hardly any of them are practising psychology. Some are selling insurance while others are operating small businesses such as selling ladies clothes, shoes and handbags. The reason is almost always the same; they did not get jobs.
I remember one time a woman approached me after a psycho education session with mothers attending post natal clinic. She told me that her son had a diploma in pharmacy yet he had been jobless since he graduated almost 3 years earlier. I asked her what he was doing and she said that he was just at home with nothing to do.
I told her that to change his life, he needed to change that. Sitting at home with nothing to do does not help anyone’s career in any way. Getting out there and ensuring to get noticed in the market place is the way to unlock opportunities.
I gave her an example of the health centre where we were. There was no pharmacist yet medication was being dispensed daily. What if he made himself useful volunteering in such a place rather than staying idle at home? He might not earn anything but he would gain experience and get himself a good name among people who are capable of opening doors for him.
Millions of Kenyans are suffering because of lack of psychological services in primary healthcare. Ironically, there are trained psychologists who are out of work, many ending up ditching the psychology profession for the insurance industry or some other sales business.
The power of volunteering
I learned a very important lesson from Jim Rohn. He said that before someone ever paid him to speak, he had given thousands of free talks. For someone to recognize your worth, you’ve got to get noticed first. How will you get noticed if you stay in the house waiting to hire him?
Get out there and serve. Sign up as a volunteer with organizations that respond to disasters such as the Red Cross. Practice what you are trained to do. Psychological services are always needed during disasters.
Visit health facilities and introduce yourself, show what value you are ready to offer on voluntary basis. A lot of patients who need psychological services often don’t get them because they are not available. Give people value and transform lives. If your services are not needed in one facility, try a second and a third one. Do your best just as you would do if you were being paid.
Reach as many people as possible with your services. Start a blog and share information to help people. Join Quora and answer relevant questions. Start a Facebook page and use it to educate people.
No one offering you a job? No worries. Put in the effort to create employment for yourself.