Channel more resources towards improving mental wellness of citizens

Mental health is a universal human right, and we should break the stigma around it and provide accessible and affordable mental healthcare for everyone. [iStockphoto]

With external pressures and inherent struggles to make ends meet, the prevailing situation in the country has effectively contributed to the deteriorating mental wellbeing of the majority. Most people agree that mental health plays a pivotal role in determining the country's overall health and socioeconomic burden. Reports indicate that the global economy loses $ 1 trillion each year predominantly from reduced productivity.

However, it should be known that mental health is more than the absence of mental illnesses and conditions; it encompasses emotional wellbeing, cognitive processing, feelings, and rational thought processes that potentiate one to cope with normal stresses of life and productively go about their daily activities. Therefore, any sovereign country that upholds the rule of law, should ensure the happiness index of its citizens increases since it is a recipe and econometric model for productivity and accelerated GDP per capita.

Cognisant of this truthful but sapping fact, the world commemorates World Mental Health Day on October 10 every year. The day is set aside to increase global awareness of mental health concerns and galvanise collective action in support of mental wellbeing.

The day epitomises a platform for various stakeholders involved in addressing mental health issues to discuss their initiatives and highlight the ongoing efforts to ensure accessible and affordable mental healthcare for people across the globe. Epidemiologically, one out of four people are impacted by mental illness at some point in their lives globally.  

Despite the spirit of article 43 of the Constitution, a whopping 3.7 million people in Kenya suffer from various mental health disorders. This fact is cemented by the Kenya National Commission of Human Rights report, which estimates that 25 per cent and 45 per cent of outpatients and inpatients, respectively, suffer from mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse and related addictive disorders, schizophrenia and related psychotic disorders and bipolar mood disorders.

Appallingly, suicide is the common cause of death among individuals affected by mental and psychological disturbances, according to Kenya National Guidelines on Workplace Mental Wellness. The nation has made significant efforts to ameliorate this critical situation by formulating and revising policies and guidelines that serve as a blueprint for execution. Nevertheless, our history as a nation demonstrates a propensity to policy and guidelines implementation slough, primarily because of the limited or inadequate allocation of resources to support the operationalisation of these legal documents.

With the current economic turmoil, employee turnover, high cost of living and exponentially bloated taxes that citizens are experiencing, enough resources from various stakeholders should be channelled to mental health programmes.

This year, WHO has identified the theme, “Mental health is a universal human right”, as the clarion call to mark the International Mental Health Day 2023. This is aimed at improving knowledge, intensifying efforts to raise awareness and drive actions that promote and protect everyone’s mental health as a universal human right.

In the same vein, as we continue creating awareness and putting policies in place to support mental health, we should consider repealing section 226 of the penal code that criminalises suicide.

Instead, we should view a suicidal person as one in need of the highest attainable standards of mental health services, counselling, rehabilitation, psychiatric care and or any other mental health care. The only humane way to celebrate this day is to break the adage of quid pro quo and begin to speak up, normalise and embrace mental wellness, create awareness, seek mental health and psychosocial support services and embrace self-care.