We studied the rate of participation of psychiatric nurses in mental healthcare in Kenya. A simple questionnaire was delivered to 50 nurses attending a mental health meeting of the National Nursing Alliance of Kenya in April 2012. Of the 40 nurses with psychiatric nursing qualifications, 19 worked specifically as psychiatric nurses; among those employed as general nurses, half their case-loads were mental health patients. Ten per cent of psychiatric nurses had run a private clinic (75% of them general clinics) and 15% were doing private locum work alongside salaried employment. Kenya would need to increase the number of psychiatric nurses 20-fold in order to achieve an internationally recommended ratio (for low-income countries) of 12 psychiatric nurses per 100 000. It appears psychiatric nurses are migrating internally to nursing positions in other areas of healthcare, aggravating the ‘brain drain’ in mental health.