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Gender PS urges teachers to break the silence on mental health

 Teachers Service Commission (TSC) headquarters, Nairobi. [File, Standard]

Teachers have been challenged to speak up about issues affecting their mental well-being.

Gender Principal Secretary, Anne Wang’ombe called on the teachers to shun the stigma associated with mental health and seek assistance.

“We are encouraging teachers both women and men to come out, let’s break the silence. Let’s talk about the issues that disturb us,” Wang’ombe said.

She spoke in Nairobi during the inaugural Mental Wellness Walk for teachers across the country, organised by the Kenya Women Teachers Association (Kewota).

The walk doubled as a drive to raise funds for the construction of a teachers’ wellness centre, which Kewota Chief Executive Benta Opande said will cost about Sh400 million.

She revealed that the association is in negotiations to acquire a piece of land in Nairobi where the facility will be constructed.

Kewota is working in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Works for the design of the wellness centre that will have inpatient wards, clinics and physiotherapy units among others.

“We are working with Kenya National Union of Teachers, Nairobi branch, because they have a land scheme in Joska. We have agreed with them that after the walk, the majority of that financing will go towards buying the land,” said Opande.

The association will partner with other organisations in putting up the facility whose groundbreaking is scheduled for December 2024.

In the meantime, Opande said Kewota will help teachers access mental health care in existing facilities.

She revealed that at least one in four tutors suffers from mental illness and distress.

Opande is optimistic that the facility will go a long way in addressing mental wellness among teachers suffering in silence.

“In the last three years, we have lost 100 teachers from suicide and those are the ones which are reported,” she said.

The Kewota chief executive noted that teachers' mental problems stem from domestic abuse, financial distress and family problems.

“There are so many alcoholic teachers, especially the male teachers. They have so much bottled inside that the family and institution do not understand and the only solution is to drink,” she said.

Funds collected from the walk, Opande said will be used to sponsor severe mental illness cases among teachers in existing mental wellness institutions.

“We need a place where these teachers can go. The male teachers have told us we need a place where we can cry, in private and with no victimisation. The female teachers are saying the battering and gender-based violence is there,” she said.

“We need a wellness centre that teachers call their home. There is one by the Teachers Service Commission but when you listen to their stories, many say that the problem stems from the employer and thus are reluctant to seek help from that wellness centre,” she added.

The TSC's 2021/2022 annual report underscored the severity of the situation, revealing that one in every four teachers seeking outpatient services for mental health.

Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) acting secretary general Moses Nthurima criticised TSC over failure to provide teachers proper mental medicare.

“As of May 7, all hospitals accredited under the Scheme had stopped providing services to teachers and their dependents. The majority of facilities no longer take the medical cover provided by the employer forcing tutors to seek alternative means,” Nthurima said.

He blamed the situation on the collapse of the Sh15 billion medical scheme for teachers and their dependents, leaving many without access to essential healthcare services.

“Teachers and their dependents have been deprived of medical attention unless they can pay for it from their own pockets,” he said.

Nthurima regretted that some teachers and their dependents have even been detained in hospitals due to unpaid bills, further affecting their mental well-being.

“Some inpatient clients have been detained at hospitals after the facilities withdrew their services to teachers,” said the official citing a case of a Chavakali High School student who has been undergoing treatment at Nairobi West Hospital following a road accident last month.

“The boy’s parents have been forced to hold fundraisings to offset his medical bills. And the funds so far collected are not sufficient to clear the bill,” said Nthurima.

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