Mental Health Initiatives in Kenya



Mental Health Initiatives in Kenya
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There is a growing need for mental health initiatives in Kenya. Countless people get affected and suffer in silence due to the stigma that’s tied to mental illness. In most African countries, mental illness is seen as a curse rather than a disease. As a result, those suffering from it tend to get shunned away. Others are advised to visit witchdoctors and herbalists to have the curse removed. Worse still, the affected person’s family and friends also wind up suffering as they do not understand how to help their loved ones.

How To Tell If You’re Suffering From a Mental Illness

Mental illness is a broader term that refers to a variety of disorders that affect your thinking, mood, and overall behavior. It includes conditions such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Substance abuse disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Eating disorders

There are a variety of causative agents that lead to these disorders. They include a person’s genes, their ability to cope with stressful situations or trauma, sociocultural factors, environmental, and economic situations, to list a few. Mental illness can lead one to distance themselves from others, feel unwanted, or have thoughts that they are failures. If these feelings are left unchecked, they could lead to more bad ideas such as self-harm or suicidal thoughts.

According to the WHO, Kenyan suicides have risen by over 50% since 2008, with 421 cases reported in 2017 alone. It has now reached a point where even young children commit suicide whenever they’re in unpleasant situations. It has become an escape route for many.

Mental Health Initiatives by The Kenyan Government

A government task force, formed in December 2019, now aims to help in the battle against mental illness. The task force has been mandated to assess Kenya’s current mental health system. They did so by having public hearings in several counties, including Meru, Nakuru, Eldoret, Garissa, Kakamega, and Nairobi, among others throughout January 2020. Its purpose was to reach out to those suffering from, or affected by those who have, a mental illness. By hearing of the challenges they face in seeking and receiving treatment, the task force would be in a better position to create policies that aid the fight rather than impede it.

Possible Mental Health Initiatives To Better Manage The Illness

1. Empathizing with those suffering from the illness

Those suffering are among us every day. People must understand that mental illness is curable if found and treated correctly. Traditional beliefs of witchcraft need to take a back seat, especially in rural areas.

Meanwhile, in urban settings, people need more encouragement to open up. Most city dwellers live in isolation. They go to work, hang out with friends, and pretend all is well. However, they are struggling with inner turmoil, afraid of how their peers will react when they find out about their struggles. Acceptance is essential in helping those who are suffering to come out and seek help. 

2. Training additional psychiatrists

Research conducted in 2004 showed that only 53 psychiatrists were servicing the population that stood at 31.5 million. Not much has changed since then. As of 2016, there were only 88 practicing psychiatrists in Kenya. The number later rose to 100 psychiatrists in 2018. The scarcity of medical professionals in this field could be attributed to the government’s minimal participation in this area. However, with the expected mental health initiatives, such elements make up the matters that need addressing. The more trained psychiatrists available, the easier it will be to help fight mental illness.

3. Government funding to reduce the cost of treatment

Healthcare for average citizens is rather costly for general hospital visits. With mental health issues, patients get forced to part with hefty sums if they wish to receive treatment. And that’s regardless of whether you visit a public or private hospital. Along with its other mental health initiatives, the Kenyan government should look into ways to subsidize the payments. One way to do this would be to create facilities that specifically deal with mental illness patients. That way, patients that visit can receive help from qualified personnel but at a low cost, such as is the case with government-run health centers.