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Do more to improve mental healthcare in Kenya

By Editorial | February 8th 2021

Increased cases of depression, suicide and homicide point to a serious mental health problem in Kenya. Millions of Kenyans continue to suffer mental illness in silence, but the worst of it is that many of them are not even aware they have mental health problems.

In December 2019, President Uhuru Kenyatta formed a Mental Health task-force under the leadership of Psychiatrist, Dr Frank Njenga. The task-force’s report was handed over to the government in July last year, and some of its findings were, quite frankly, disturbing.

Among the task-force’s recommendations was the establishment of a Mental Health Commission and declaration of mental illness as a national emergency of ‘epidemic proportions’. By the time the task-force submitted its report, Covid-19, first detected in Kenya in March 2020, was taking its toll on many Kenyans.

From job losses to other socio-economic disruptions as a result of the government taking tough measures to contain Covid-19, most Kenyans found themselves in unfamiliar ground, barely able to take care of their daily needs.

The result has been an increase in domestic violence, depression, stress levels and suicidal tendencies, as some of those pushed to the wall lose the desire to continue fighting on. It is estimated that one in every 10 Kenyans suffers from a mental disorder, yet our hospitals are poorly equipped to handle mental health issues.

Kenya has about 100 psychiatrists and only 10 hospitals that can handle mental illness. Despite Mathari Hospital being the only mental referral facility in the country, it is still poorly funded and understaffed to handle emerging challenges. This should change. There is urgent need to fully implement the Mental Health Task-force’s recommendations.

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