Dennis Ombachi, Kenyan Olympic sevens athlete who is coping with bipolar disorder

Dennis Ombachi (right) in action for Kenya Sevens
Dennis Ombachi, right, played for Kenya at both the Rugby World Cup Sevens Sevens and the Olympic Games

Dennis Ombachi was able to confide in his coach and take the first steps towards receiving treatment for his mental illness.

After being diagnosed with bipolar disorder (which can lead to extreme mood swings), the Kenya rugby sevens international will be taking a break.

Ombachi wants to remind others who are in similar situations that it is Mental Health Awareness Week.

The 31-year old told BBC Sport Africa that many people experience this and that not many are willing to seek assistance.

“So, for me, it's just telling them that it's treatable. It's something that you can live with, and it doesn’t impact your quality life at all.

Ombachi was part of the Olympic debut in Rio de Janeiro. He also played for Kenya at both the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens Sevens and 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Sevens is an energetic and fast-paced sport, but Ombachi would lose interest in training and would cry in the shower after matches.

Innocent Simiyu, his national team coach, eventually told him about his struggles prior to the 2018 World Cup Sevens.

Ombachi stated that he had been dealing with these issues since his senior years in high school and early sports career.

“I think I was selected to play against Australia and Singapore. I didn't make it on my flight.

“That was when the coach pulled my aside. I shared with him my feelings and what I had been through for a few years. I am so grateful that the coach truly understood.

“He advised me to return home to seek out help. Because I had not spoken to my family or anyone close about this, I chose the closest friend.

Dennis Ombachi in action for Kenya Sevens
Ombachi claims that his condition has affected his relationships with his family and friends

His condition worsened and he was now at his lowest point.

Ombachi attempted suicide one day, but his three sisters intervened to save him.

He was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2018 after that failed attempt.

He said, “It was actually beginning to affect my personal and friendship with the mother-of-my children, and everything.”

“My diagnosis was made in my late 20s. While it was still my prime career, I remember thinking, “I managed to get where I am despite my illness.” Then it started to escalate.

“I was initially diagnosed with depression. However, it turned out to be a misdiagnosis. After two weeks, I was admitted to a mental institution for approximately two weeks. That's when my psychiatrist diagnosed me bipolar. I believe that's the beginning of my journey.

“This is something that I wish I had been able manage in my 20s. My life would have been different if I had not struggled with my mental problems.


Dennis Ombachi in action for Kenya Sevens
Ombachi wants to end the stigma surrounding mental health by sharing his diagnosis.

Ombachi declared he was bipolar in a social media threadexternal-linkHe left the rugby sevens circuit a year ago, describing it as “hustle and bustle”.

“Since my diagnose it's been an ups-and-downs period – relapses here, there and out of hospital,” he stated.

“But, I believe that by last year, I was more in control of my disorder.”

“My career was nearly over, so I had to get out of sports because it's very demanding.

“You must perform at your highest level no matter what the circumstances. To do this, you need to have a certain physique. There are many stresses, both inside and outside of the sport organization.

“When I came out, my goal was to help just one person get out there and break the stigma. It's all a matter of breaking the stigma.”

Ombachi hopes to now return to high-level rugby.

“For me, taking a vacation was to gain a sense of my mental state and observe how it is taking shape. I then tried to establish myself outside of sports and see how that goes. He said, “So far so good.”

“In the near-future, I look forward making a comeback to sports now that my situation is a bit more stable.”

Coping with cooking

Ombachi discovered that one of the best ways to deal with his condition was to show his self-taught cooking skills and his 170,000 followers on Instagram and Twitter.

He said that the internet was his coping mechanism and it was where he discovered his passion for cooking.

“Travelling all over the world allows you to experience different cuisines. I've had to go through at least four or five major surgeries in my career.

“It is during this recovery period that my mental state tends to dip, so I just try and learn how to cook using the internet.

“It was woodwork and cooking for me. These are my hobbies that got me out of the depressing situations. I was forced to find a way to make the most of my unfortunate circumstances.

You can visit BBC HeadroomFor a mental health toolkit. Support is available for those who are experiencing emotional distress. external-link.

Visit the UK to find a list of UK mental healthcare organizations that offer support and information. BBC Action Line.

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