Wiper Nominated Senator Sylvia Kasanga has urged the government to fully integrate Mental Health illness into the Universal Health Care plan as a way of addressing the problem.
Speaking to the media, Senator Kasanga cited the WHO report which stipulates that mental health is more than the absence of mental disorders. She said that addressing the problem would help affected Kenyans to ‘cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and contribute to their community.’
“It’s time for us to consider mental health as a crucial component of our overall well-being. In Kenya, mental health issues are on the rise. Research shows that one in every four Kenyans is likely to suffer from a mental disorder at one point in their lives, “she said.
Kasanga spoke after meeting the Senate Mental Health Taskforce in Nairobi. She said the Taskforce was working on ways of addressing mental health issues in the country by making proposals.
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“This task force will soon present their report to the Senate in two weeks’ time and today they have briefed us on the progress of their findings which are very crucial in the amendment of Mental Health Bill 2018,” Kasanga said.
She attributed various suicide-related deaths in the country to the existing gaps in addressing mental health problems.
She said: “It’s very alarming that we are waking up to many shocking incidences ranging from people including school children committing suicide, others murdering their loved ones. This is a clear sign that something is wrong somewhere and unless we address it now we might end up facing a bigger challenge.”
According to the findings of the task force, the biggest challenge facing the country is lack of awareness, hence many Kenyans suffer silently.
For Trans Nzoi Senator Dr Michael Mbito, who chairs the Senate Health Committee, the cost of treating mental illness in the country at the moment is unreachable.
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Mbito said that the task force was proposing independent funding to strengthen the department.
“Today in Kenya the cost of treating and managing mental illness in Kenya is expensive for the majority of the population and as the task force we are recommending that mental health be funded independently the way HIV & AIDS are funded because in this way we shall reduce the impact of this disease, “he said.
According to the estimates in the 2015 Ministry of Health report, Kenya has only 100 psychiatrists for a population of 47 million.
Besides this, clinical psychologists and medical social workers who are central to the management and treatment of mental illness are very few.
Senator Kasanga said that even the few psychiatrists who are deployed in various facilities are not easily accessible.
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She said: “These experts are relatively inaccessible to the majority who need mental health services due to geographical distance as the majority are based in the urban areas with high consultation fees.”
“This forces most of those suffering to seek private treatment which is very costly and those who cannot afford are forced to deal with their conditions themselves without professional assistance.”
She also added that Mathari Hospital, which is the only affordable public facility and the only public hospital in the country offering specialized psychiatric services and training should be fully funded to global standards.