Credit: Falling Walls Foundation

Mary Bitta describes how working with local communities in Kenya can destigmatise mental health.

Mental-health researcher Mary Bitta uses art and artistic performance to tackle public mistrust in science across communities in Kilifi, Kenya.

This distrust can extend to procedures such as taking blood and saliva samples, and also to mental-health problems, which many people think are caused by witchcraft — evil spirits or curses from parents or grandparents, she says.

Such beliefs account for mental health not being prioritized by policymakers, she adds. But change is afoot.

“In the last five years alone, we’ve had policy documents specifically for mental health. There’s also been progress in amending legislation. For example, there has been a recent lobby to decriminalize suicide because, as we speak, suicide is illegal in Kenya,” she says.

Bitta tells Akin Jimoh, chief editor of Nature Africa, how she uses a form of participatory action research — in which communities are involved in song, dance, video and radio productions — to change attitudes to mental health.

This is the final episode of an eight-part podcast series on science in Africa.