There is need to priortise mental health if Kenya is to fully develop

Imagine the shock of a parent who receives a call from school informing them of the death of their child through suicide just days before reuniting over the mid-term break.

The events that led to the death of a student at Butere Girls High School has sent chills down the spines of millions across the country, and should be a wake-up call to deal with the issue of the state of mental health of our children.

The internet has for long been cited as one of the platforms that may introduce children to all manner of ills. Things have been made worse by easy access to mobile phones, which creates a community of unsupervised youth who  share a lot through their gadgets.

The ubiquity of the phone has created opportunities for misguided elements to share experiences that at best could be described as a fantasy.

Many of the glamorous lives and  things shared on social media and messaging apps like WhatsApp, are not real. After all this is the era of ‘fake it till you  make it.’ Of course this can be a source of great pressure for those who feel they are being left behind.Not surprisingly, some people, in a bid to keep up with the contemporaries, have been driven to depression.

The mobile phone has become a ‘tool of torture,’ besides being practical and a source of entertainment.

But why should school life or failing to live up to the expectations of one’s peers and guardians be a matter of life and death? Life was never meant to be that serious. Teenagers, like their parents, should be allowed to make mistakes and learn from them without being condemned as failures. 

There are, experts agree, other factors which predispose people to suicide. Some of these are access to firearms, sexual and or physical abuse, unemployment, strained relationships and imprisonment. Patients living with chronic diseases, financial difficulties and loneliness are also more likely to commit suicide.

The string of increased number of suicides witnessed in different parts of the country is a pointer that the country’s state of mental health has been neglected and something should be done about it urgently.

It is clear that even teenagers are being exposed to conditions that could foster depression. The country needs to pay more attention to the  mental health of its citizens. The Ministry of Health needs to establish mechanisms for offering psycho-social support to those who are affected. Counselling by professionals should also be introduced in schools as a matter of urgency.

There should also be a system that easily detects those who are vulnerable to avoid tragic incidences, such as cases of military and police officers killing their colleagues or family members. 

A country whose collective mental state is unhinged cannot develop and meet the needs of her people. It is time to invest resources in the development of infrastructure that supports a robust mental healthcare.

At best, the current mental hospitals and clinics are in poor states and far too few to fully cater for the needs of all counties.

Kenya, as a country, also needs qualified medics, backed by professional counsellors with the requisite skills to forestall further degeneration of those who are vulnerable.  

As the Jubilee government redirects its energies towards achieving the Big Four Agenda whose pillars include health, special attention should be paid to mental health, for it is a key plank in human development.

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