The proportion of people with mental illness who access mental health care is very low in sub-Saharan Africa. A major contributing factor is stigma and discrimination towards people with mental illnesses. This project is a mental health awareness campaign which is being conducted in Kilifi County along the Kenyan Coast. The campaign is funded by the Wellcome Trust as a collaboration between the Kenya Medical Research Institute- Wellcome Trust, the Documentary Institute of Eastern Africa and the Malindi District Cultural Association.

The awareness campaign slogan is “Difu Simo” – a Kigiryama phrase which means “Breaking free”. It will involve use of participatory approaches and awareness walks to sensitize the public about mental illnesses. The aims of the project are to improve knowledge about mental illnesses, reduce stigma towards people with mental illnesses to encourage them to seek health care and bring the worlds of biomedical treatment and traditional healing in dialogue about a holistic approach to treat and re-integrate people with mental health issues back into the community and live healthy lives.

The awareness activities of the Difu Simo project will be conducted in a specified area of Kilifi County called the Kilifi Health and demographic Surveillance System (KHDSS). This area was demarcated by researchers from the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI). in the year 2000 and it comprises about 280,000 residents of Kilifi County. The area was selected to capture the majority of patients admitted to Kilifi County Hospital. More details of the KHDSS Review Unit can be found here.

To evaluate the impact of the Difu Simo awareness campaign, research members from the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust will evaluate the changes in proportions of people seeking care at the hospitals within the KHDSS and those hospitals outside the KHDSS. We will also examine whether the awareness activities improved the levels of knowledge of the KHDSS residents and whether improved knowledge lowered stigma towards people with mental illness. Ethical approval to conduct the research activities will be sought from the Scientific Ethical and Review Unit of the Kenya Medical Research Institute.

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Mary Bitta

Project Principal Investigator

Mary is a trained nurse and a mental health researcher based at the KEMRI Wellcome Trust Research program. Her research involves developing and evaluating interventions to improve access to quality mental health care in rural areas of Kenya.

Charles Newton

Project co-investigator

Charles is a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, with over 30 years of research experience in mental and neurological conditions in Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana and South Africa. He is also a practising paediatric neurologist and splits his time between the Kilifi County Hospital in Kenya and Oxford in the United Kingdom.

Judy Baariu

Research officer

Judy is a trained nurse working as a research officer for the project. She coordinates the day to day activities of the project and leads the participatory videos activities in the project.

Simone Grassi


Simone is a documentarist filmmaker and founder of the Documentary Institute of Eastern Africa, a non-profit organization possessing a consolidated experience in documentary production and research on cultural and development topics in the East African region.

James Kahindi

Field assistant

James has a background training in media and communications. He coordinates field activities including participant identification and recruitments and liaison with Kilifi County administrative officials.

Onyango Otieno

Mental health advocate

Onyango is a mental health advocate, poet, writer and storyteller. He practises storytelling to help individuals, communities and healing circles to tell their stories as a way to tackle mental health stigma.

Joseph Karisa Mwarandu

Mijikenda rights activist

Joseph is a Giriama lawyer and the Secretary General of the Malindi District Cultural Association (MADCA). As a representative of the Mijikenda Kaya Elders, he has been promoting traditional culture initiatives and advocating for human rights issues during the last two decades.

Emanuel Chengo Munyaya

Mijikenda rights activist

Emanuel is the Chairman of the Malindi District Cultural Association (MADCA). He is also a representative of the indigenous faith (ATR) in Coast Interfaith Council of Clerics representing the Mijikenda and other indigenous faith in the region. He has been leading traditional peace walk campaigns on the Kenyan coast for the past ten years.