Changing the mental health narrative in Africa – Tom Osborn
In a continent where mental health is dealt with with complete disregard and nonchalance, it is a delight to find more and more youth driving discussions about mental health and drawing much-needed attention to it.
Kenyan born, Tom Osborn is leading an international campaign on creating a safe space for discussions on mental health looking at the fast-paced sense of growth and responsibility on the young African child. According to Tom, Africa’s young and vibrant population suffers from the lack of a clear path leading to the kind of successful independent life they aspire to have. This, he refers to as a ticking time bomb of mental health problems.
Tom’s strong desire to advocate for an open forum and discussion on mental health was stirred by his own experiences growing up. The young lad grew up in a rather poor community in Kenya and seeing as fewer of his age mates advanced at each stage of the educational ladder, got him asking questions. It was much worst when he was the only one amongst his age mates from that neighbourhood who made it to the university. At 18, he co-founded GreenChar, a social enterprise that provided homes and institutions in rural Kenya and urban slums with clean energy.
Osborn’s strong passion for mental health safe spaces led to the formation of the Shamiri Institute. The Institute is a data-driven public benefit organization that uses cutting edge social science research and deep contextual knowledge of the communities that we work with to build a future where young people can actualize their life potential. Shamiri means ‘thrive’ in Kiswahili and the instituted was founded in 2018 at Harvard University by Tom and rising global mental health researcher Katherine Venturo-Conerly.
Tom, who is a graduate of Havard University (class of 2020 with a B.A. degree with High Honors in Psychology) says it is obvious, ‘the Kenyan government has a progressive policy framework around mental health, however, the implementation of this framework is what is found wanting.’
Because mental health prevents many young people from realizing their life outcomes, Shamiri’s current priority is to develop and implement tools that improve the mental health and wellbeing of Africa’s youths.
The organization’s current focus is expanding its impact across Africa (from Kenya) because, in a continent where half the population is 19 years or younger, our potential for impact is enormous.