Graduate Spotlight: Peter Wanyangi – My passion for mental health


Looking back at the past four years in mental health advocacy, the voices of Stratizens who were and are struggling with their mental health, most of whom sent us emails requesting help, drive me to speak even more loudly and courageously to this cause.

Many people struggle silently behind their radiant and beautiful smiles. We hardly see their struggles because they’ve masked it so well. Sometimes it is due to fear of being vulnerable, lack of trust, pervasive stigma, and the associated ‘awkwardness’ with being authentic to their feelings, thoughts, and emotions. Others face tough times with Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) and factors in their environment that are constant triggers reminding them of past ordeals with just but a few experiences.

The only way we’ll help each other is to understand these issues and everything surrounding and affecting our mental health. I am  encouraged by those who reached out to us and were grateful that our initiatives gave them a voice or a platform to express themselves. I hope my story, the experiences, and the continued initiatives being fronted by mental health advocates will make a difference to all of us.

It was in the second year of my Bachelor of Commerce, Finance major degree that I found out about the Strathmore Mental Health Club via their Instagram page. I was looking for more in a Club – purpose, a club that challenged me, and where my potential and skills would be harnessed. It was during an especially difficult time for me as I was navigating a new environment and culture at Strathmore. I had just abruptly ended another degree program a year before at a university in Nairobi after a frustrating academic year doing a course that did not ignite any interest or career direction in me at all. Strathmore became my second chance. The immense urge for belonging, purpose, and fulfillment at Strathmore was irrespective of the fact that I had already taken two leadership positions as a class representative and a senate member at the 10th Student Council.

After keenly following the club’s activities, I went for an interview session with then Mental Health Club co-founder, Wambui Kang’ara. I was later invited to join the club in early 2019. Mental health, as a point of discussion,was very alien to me, and it took me some time to understand and relate my experiences with the concept. A year after I joined the club, founders Wambui and Kristy Obuya were on there last steps on campus, as they prepared for graduation The two had founded the Club two years earlier and the team was still growing.Their passion, time and resource investment, love and zeal for the club, and awareness initiatives were  contagious. I had worked under them to coordinate a successful October 2019 Mental Health Awareness Week, supported the Club to partner with “Paint the Run” for a color-run event at Ngong’ Road Forest Sanctuary, as well as being part of a team of students drawn from various institutions who gave their recommendations to the Mental Health Taskforce established by former President H.E. Uhuru Kenyatta to investigate the concerns around mental health and inform solutions to the challenges which led to the Mental Health Taskforce Report.

When the club leadership called for submissions for elections to the club council in February 2020, I was very hesitant to apply. I thought the weight that would come with leading the club would be overwhelming.  I wanted to go for the president’s position, but I was full of doubt in handling the demands of the position. It would be the ‘craziest’ thing I would ever do in my life – from an ordinary club member to the club’s president; what did I know? But I was so ambitious to steer the Club from where the founders left it. Amidst my fears, I applied for election as the Club President and presented my ambitious manifesto. I did it while fearful and uncertain. I was elected to the position in March 2020 unopposed. Together with a team of five; Wendy Akumu, Wendy Kuyoh, Wahu Mbote, and Tim Sang, we formed the Club’s 2020 Council.

No sooner had we been inducted to office in March 2020, than COVID-19 struck. It’s like the harsh times were waiting for us. The next months would become daunting and an uphill task. It transformed the necessity for mental health awareness not only at Strathmore, but globally.

The demand for mental health conversations was so real – anxiety and depression were a huge topic and the then Student Council reached out to the club to pitch for a collaboration opportunity to address the silent disease among fellow students – anxiety and depression. My team and I were still getting acquainted with the new office in the new normal and I think the call of duty from the 11th Student Council was the force we needed for us to not just get into action but most importantly to address the need for the important conversations on mental health within our Strathmore community.

We held our first mental health campaign partnering with the Student Council virtually via Zoom in May and June 2020. We slowly started getting into action and delivering new engaging activities around mental health awareness.

I was juggling virtual classes, club meetings, club events, house chores, and taking care of my younger brother. The tasks at hand required efficient time management since I was moving from task to task and events late into the night. My hands were full and the focus on our club was huge, and not just in Strathmore. Non-Stratizens, from the young to the old, were also joining our video calls. It was a different time, like never seen before! Four months later, we held the club’s virtual Mental Health Awareness Week, at around 10th October. The week is observed and commemorated worldwide as World Mental Health Day. The event was a huge success. We largely addressed topics on mental disorders and touched on anxiety and depression sharing real experiences of students living with mental health disorders and personal struggles which we later uploaded on our YouTube channel.

Some months before we held our awareness week series, an unexpected tragedy struck the University when we learned of the passing on of a Stratizen who unfortunately died by suicide. This misfortune led to an outcry from the student leadership with all the club leaders calling for urgent action to engage fellow Stratizens in their mental health. This led to a movement pushed by all club leaders who called on the Mental Health Club to lead all clubs and the student council for a memorial of the lost comrade and urgently hold a forum to discuss the mental health situation amongst the Stratizens. Everyone acted and volunteered to support the initiatives. Stratizens united online to speak to heart about the mental health challenges they faced. We discussed the solutions we could leverage and the support that we needed to offer to each other so as not to experience another tragedy like that. The times were indeed challenging.

The year 2021 began on a high note, with the Dean of Students recognizing our previous year’s initiatives to crown us as the Club of the Year 2020 and with the Best Club Report in 2020.  I was honoured to receive the Dean’s Award for my leadership in steering the Club during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our goal was to hold the first Mental Health Awareness Week in October 2021 during the academic break. In August, just a month before the Awareness Week, we founded a “Men Tubonge” show with the support of several students including the President of the 12th Student Council Don Kamoya, and Sharon Kamau and Roy King’atua from the Strathmore Media Group. Men Tubonge was created to build a foundation for conversations around men’s mental health which largely was being shied and stigmatized upon.  The ladies also supported the series by encouraging their male friends to get on board. I was impressed by the waves the series created. The series was such a huge success that it got the attention of Eli Mwenda and Oscar Koome from “The Man Talk” show who accepted our invitation to participate in the 2nd episode. We also had Bright Shitemi from “Mental 360” come to support the conversations and Andy Young from “The Mics Are Open” podcast who showed up for our 3rd episode. Men Tubonge’s success is credited to many people who were non-members of the mental health club. Ian Kiiru was the star of the show as our incredible event host for the series and he spectacularly directed the conversations.

In the same month of August 2021, tragedy struck our club membership. We lost an avid and committed member of the Club, Burhanuddin Yamani, a friend and a person I admired for his commitment to the club’s activities, to a short illness. This was a very low period for the Club. He made a visible mark in the club and influenced tremendous passion for the work we were doing at the Club. To this day, I am inspired by him, and his memories are a living encouragement and commitment to my mental health advocacy. I hope we will always make him proud as the mental health club by not being deterred from the club’s vision which he held dearly, deeply, and passionately.

Leadership can sometimes be so difficult, one week after the demise of our dear member, we were scheduled to begin our Mental Health Awareness Week in October 2021. While our souls were wounded and our spirits were down, we had to deliver this event and I had the major task of championing the team’s readiness for the event. We dedicated the event to him, and I vowed to myself to put more effort into the event in dedication to his life. That gave me strength. The weekly event was beyond successful. We had the partnership of Red Bull and Power Horse behind us. The events attracted big names in the mental health and entertainment industry including Sharon K. Mwangi, Miss Nimu Muriu, and Bobby Junior from “East Meets West” who are very vocal about mental health, amongst many others. Much later, my team and I developed the club’s website which proudly was full of articles from Stratizens sharing their mental health experiences. We launched the long-awaited mental health podcast in November with Sharon Kamau from the Strathmore Media Group. The How You Doin’? podcast would become a joint venture of the two clubs, sponsored by the Dean of Students with a team of passionate individuals headed by Anna Wang’ombe, as the Managing Director, to amplify the mental health awareness cause of the Mental Health Club.

I retired from leadership as the Club President in December 2021 and was honored once again for the Club receiving Club of the Year 2021 award and again having the Best Club Report 2021,for the second year in a row. I continued to champion the mental health awareness cause outside the Club including being part of the organizing committee of the Staff and Student Mental Health Workshop which brought the University community together to exchange information on the academic and administrative structures that affected our mental health environment. I was also honored to be the student-lead in the campaign to charge students with giving feedback to the academic council for the university’s 5-year mental health strategy review. I am also proud of the efforts I was involved in to increase the number of psychologists at the Medical Centre with current initiatives on going to enhance the psychotherapy services on campus. I was invited last year by Mount Kenya University on the sidelines of Chiromo Hospital Group’s #TufungukeCampusTour to share insights on the university’s plans to improve its student mental health advocacy initiatives. Currently, I am leading the mental health podcast, How You Doin’? as the founding chair majorly supporting the team in governance, strategy, and innovation with the sole ambition of ensuring that the podcast achieves its founding vision – To reignite candid and bold mental health conversations among the young people for sustainable mental wellness. We aim to reach out to other campuses over and above our base here at Strathmore.

What next for me in the mental health space? I want to position myself strategically in spaces where I can be able to inform policy and influence advocacy in the mental health space, particularly in mental literacy, mental health funding in Africa, sustainable mental health services and structures as well as accommodating mental health in the workplace. I am a very big champion of mental health literacy via academic institutions and pushed for a mental health curriculum adoption at Strathmore which is largely on course to adoption or implementation last I checked but hoping to see that fruit one day. Also looking forward to doing a diploma in counseling psychology soon. Young people who are mental health aware will create a huge force in the community and help fight ignorance which is a major contributor to stigma. There can be no mental health awareness without bold and candid mental health conversations. Hoping to continue keeping this fire burning and leverage the strong foundations built at Strathmore.

This article was written by Peter Wanyangi, a Bachelor of Commerce #ClassOf2023 graduate.

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