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Kimani Mbugua’s mental breakdown not isolated case among journalists

By Dex Mumo

Former Citizen TV journalist Kimani Mbugua’s case of mental breakdown is not unique. Many journalists go through depression; some come out while others keep quiet. Depression is real in our newsrooms and out there among the scribes.

Kristen Bell, a renowned American actress who confesses having gone through anxiety and depression, once said, “Anyone can be affected, despite their level of success or their place on the food chain. In fact, there is a good chance you know someone who is struggling with a form of mental illness in their lifetime. So why aren’t we talking about it?”

I say then, every journalist is a candidate of mental breakdown. We have had many celebrities commit suicide due to depression. Talk of The CBS 60 Minutes correspondent, the legendary journalist Mike Wallace who died by suicide in 2012 due to depression.

We also remember the sudden death of Wausau news anchor, Neena Pacholke who died by suicide in October 2022 because of depression. Do you remember New York Times political columnist Blake Hounshell who reportedly died in January 2023 after battling depression? The list can be very long!

In Kenya, reports show that one out of four people suffer from a mental health condition. Journalists and other celebrities form a large percentage of such cases.

In 2019, the BBC journalist Ciru Muriuki opened up on her mental health and shocked those who knew her. In 2021, BBC journalist Emmanuel Igunza confessed battling depression.

Moreover, Betty Kyallo, Julie Gichuru, Joey Muthengi, and Anita Nderu are just a few journalists who have confessed having wrestled with depression.

A few weeks ago, Kenyans On X, woke up to the news of Kimani Mbugua topping trends after the journalist posted a video asking for help from well-wishers and explaining that he has a proposal and would wish that someone fund it.

The video was a bold move, since not everyone would come out that bravely to seek assistance to better their lives.

Later, comedian Oga Obinna interviewed the journalist on Obinna TV Live in which Kimani explained the circumstances that led him to quit his job at Citizen TV and later at Kenyans, an online news outlet, which paid him good money for his job.

Thank God significant financial aid came to Mbugua, who has been grappling with unemployment and a tumultuous life due to his battle with bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder is often misrepresented due to the lack of proper information.

Without experience or knowledge of someone with mental illness, there is limited information, which leads to inaccurate representation.

People with a mental illness are often portrayed as incapable of holding down a job, unable to sustain long-term relationships, unpredictable, and nonfunctional.

However, in many cases, with effective treatment, people with bipolar disorder can be employed, sustain relationships, and function well.

Should we blame media houses? One @Georgeouma9, commenting on the X post regarding Kimani Mbugua, felt that the structure of the media houses and mechanisms need to be put in place to help cater for mental illness cases. Many who posted their responses expressed similar sentiments.

“…our companies should set mechanisms in workplaces where the staff could be helped to overcome stressful situations or mental illnesses.”

In conclusion, depression is real. Even among journalists. Studies show that journalists’ work can impact their mental health and that between 80 to 100 per cent of journalists have been exposed to an on-the-job traumatic event. Kimani Mbugua’s case is not isolated. We wish him well.


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