When you hear the phrase “Mental Health/Wellness” what comes to mind? Did you know that there is a Mental Health Bill?
It is easy to assume that the statement is meant for someone who is not of sound mind i.e. a crazy person or someone in a mental institution. But in recent years, studies have shown that it is more than that. WHO defines Mental Health as a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. Kenya has a Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2018 which is dedicated to the mental health of all Kenyans.
According to the Kenya Mental Health Policy (2015-2030), 1 in every 4 Kenyans has suffered from mental illness in their lifetime. Some of the mental health issues that many Kenyans suffer from include depression, substance abuse, stress and anxiety. The World Health Organization (WHO) Annual Report (2017), ranks Kenya as sixth among African countries with highest rates of depression (at 1.9 million cases).
There are many factors that have played a role in how mental wellness is addressed in Kenya with stigmatization being a main factor. Many families due to stigmatization have either hid their relative who suffer from mental health or disowned and abandoned them. Other factors include grossly underfunded, unavailable and inaccessible services, discrimination, lack of proper governance structures, and lack of qualified personnel with relevant skills (The Many faces of Mental Health in Kenya 2019). According to the Ministry of Health, it is hard to extract clear records of the number of people affected by the different forms of depression (in Kenya) because many people do not seek help and simply conceal their condition.
Mental Health Webinar
Recently the Foundation hosted a webinar for our Alumni, where we addressed some of the issues affecting the youth in regards to their mental health during the COVID 19 pandemic. This webinar sought to give the alumni a platform to raise questions and concerns for their mental health. Some of the issues addressed include; cyber bullying, trauma, digital health, depression, anxiety and suicide prevention. One of the panelists Onyango Otieno of Fatuma’s Voice told the Alumni that they need to have a strong support system that will be there for them when the going gets tough. This was further retaliated by Queenter Naliaka of Girls for Girls Africa Mental Health Foundation who stated that as she was fighting depression it was the strong support system that helped her.
Currently the Kenyan youth have a lot of societal pressures that can lead to various states of mental illness. The major one being depression due to abuse of alcohol and substance abuse particularly Bhang, economic pressures, peer pressure, physical and psychological abuse and cyber-bullying. A visit to Mathari Mental Hospital will show you how many young men and women are suffering from various mental illnesses which is a sad sight to see.
The webinar addressed the various questions that the youth had and also provided them with a new insight and knowledge on what to do.
What can you do to support?
Although the general perception of mental illness has been improving of late, studies show that stigma against mental illness is still powerful, largely due to lack of education and that people tend to attach negative stigmas to mental health conditions at a far higher rate than to other diseases and disabilities, such as cancer, diabetes or heart disease. Mental health is essential and that those living with mental health issues are deserving of care, understanding, compassion, and pathways to hope, healing, recovery, and fulfillment.
One can do the following to help and support one who has mental illness
Remember, It is okay not to be OKAY. Open up and speak up. A sound mind makes an all rounded individual