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Njenga's 'Healing the Mind' book reveals pain of mental illness

 Dr Frank Njenga during an interview on his book titled 'Healing the Mind' that he will be launching soon. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

Perusing the 328-page book, it is clear a majority of Kenyans know little about mental health or how to cope with it.

In the book titled “Healing the Mind”, psychiatrist Frank Njenga exposes the struggles of Kenyans with mental illnesses.

From mental health issues around business, family, social media, career and religion, Dr Njenga answers hundreds of questions by Kenyans with mental disorders on their daily struggles.

In the book set to be launched on Monday, the psychiatrist gives his medical insight while answering every question, explaining how different social aspects expose people to mental distress. The questions and answers contained in the book have been compiled over the years.

“In my regular interactions with the people seeking help, I realised that they don’t know as much about the field of mental health as they should,” said Dr Njenga.

In one of the queries about business, a taxi driver expresses his fears of becoming a victim of rivalry after expanding his business. He asks how he can overcome his fears. He confesses to hearing voices of people plotting his downfall.

In his response, Njenga gives a diagnosis of schizophrenia, describing it as “a serious mental illness that affects an individual’s thinking and feeling process making them appear out of touch with the real world.”

In the book, parents ask about their teenage children’s behaviours, married people seek to understand family dynamics in regard to mental illnesses and a significant number of people seek to understand how social media relates to mental health.

In a chapter on office politics and its relation to mental health, individuals raise questions about discrimination, criticism, absenteeism, office relationships, and gender biases.

According to Njenga, who led the inaugural Mental Health Taskforce that was formed in 2019, Kenyans are hurting and are crying for answers and solutions to their problems.

The task force was inaugurated in December 2019 to address the mental health concerns of Kenyans and help guide the government on resource allocation for mental health. 

In their findings, Njenga mentioned stigma as a key hindrance in dealing with mental health.

“The rating of the burden of mental disorders is extremely high. We went around the country and it was unified that everybody knows someone who has a mental disorder and they do not know what to do about it,” he said.

“Many Kenyans told stories of exclusion from society because they, or a relative, suffered from mental illness.”

In the report, the Njenga-led task force recommended a presidential declaration of mental ill health as a public health emergency owing to the extent of its entrenchment.

“We also found out that accessing mental health services is difficult because of stigma. People reported being labelled as ‘mad’ for seeking medical help,” he added.

The task force, which was formed as a result of a surge in depression and mental sickness blamed for murder and suicide cases, revealed that many people are dying by suicide or through gender-based violence.

“Mental ill health is tearing families apart as spouses turn against each other, and terrified offspring witness the violence, which they will in turn visit on their spouses and children in the next generation,” noted Njenga.

The team also recommended that parliament expedite decriminalising suicide attempts to reduce stigma and encourage people to seek help.

Going forward, the psychiatrist called for prioritising funding for mental health services to lessen the burden on Kenyans.

“The main gap in the fight against mental health crisis is the absence of clear plans to implement what the government already knows are the priorities. There is no need to reinvent the wheel because the government has the required foundation,” he said.

Further, he said lack of parity care discriminates against people with mental illness and continues to drive stigma.

“As long as we are not treating mental health at the same level as diabetes and hypertension, we’re driving stigma through discrimination at the government level, employment and in insurance cover,” said the expert.

According to him, training teachers and parents on how to recognise these conditions and how to go about it would ease the burden of the mental health crisis.

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