KENYA – Shamiri Institute, a Kenyan mental health startup has raised US$1 million in funding from the Templeton World Charity Foundation to tackle the scourge of mental health in Kenya and the rest of the African continent.

The funding will allow the company to build strategies for promulgating its character-based data-driven interventions to African youth and to scrutinise the long-term health objectives and outcomes of these interventions.

Founded by Anzisha Prize Fellow Tom Osborn and partner Katherine Venturo-Coberly, Shamiri Institute is using social research data to respond to mental health issues amongst the youth.

The company was set up in 2018 and has been working in Kenya, conceptualising and implementing strategies to mitigate the crisis amongst the youth with the core objective of creating a better future for this population group.

Mental health remains a growing challenge in Kenya with a very high prevalence of depression amongst the youth. A staggering 1 out of 4 people looking for medical care in the country has a mental health condition.

Depression in the country is common and many people depend on alcohol and substances to escape, which further exacerbate the crisis. And, while the country has not necessarily allocated a budget to tackle the issue, it has set up a mental health task force that is working on a number of reforms to improve the country’s response to the challenge.

Global mental health crisis accounts for 45% of the burden of disease amongst the youth. And in Africa, with some of the highest youth unemployment rates and the lowest levels of healthcare quality, the crisis is much worse.

Having experienced the problem of mental health himself while studying at Harvard, Osborn knew firsthand that African youth bore the brunt of the crisis.

Mental health problems prevent many young people from leading successful lives. I have experienced it. And growing up in rural Kenya where the only possible route towards success was through education, I understood that economic issues such as poverty and lack of resources can contribute to mental health issues such as depression,” he says.

The funds received from Templeton World Charity Foundation will be used to expand Shamiri Institute’s impact across the African continent. According to the UN, almost 60% of Africa’s population is under the age of 25, making Africa the world’s youngest continent.

About 6 – 8% of youth are diagnosed with depression, despite the continent struggling with poor mental health literacy, the stigma around mental health issues, and weak healthcare systems.

“We are happy about this new chapter and we look forward to helping more young people deal with mental health issues. Our potential for impact is massive,” says Osborn.

As Mental Health Month concludes, efforts to deal with the growing crisis especially amongst young people are also increasing. This work is part of the important initiatives of alleviating the severe impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on people, amongst these the exacerbation of the global mental health crisis.

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