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Concern over increase in mental illness in Vihiga

 Wafula Cheng'oli from Vihiga's Health Services department speaks during a presser at Gambogi. [Brian Kisanji, Standard]

Authorities in Vihiga County have raised concerns over rising cases of mental health complications and related conditions among residents in the area.

Statistics released by the Vihiga County Health Department show a surging number of mental disorders, with at least 9,431 patients currently undergoing psychiatric treatment in the county.

According to Wafula Cheng’oli from the Health Services department, the statistics were collected from health records in public health facilities across five sub-counties, meaning details of patients who did not report to the facilities were not captured.

In the last five years, the field outpatient clinics attended to at least 5,033 patients who showed cases of mental sickness, with most cases being referred to specialised clinics for treatment.

Vihiga sub-county leads the pack with 8,839 patients. The large number is attributed to the fact that it plays host to the only public mental health unit in the county at the Vihiga County Referral Hospital (VCRH).

Emuhaya and Luanda sub-counties were initially perceived to be hotbeds for mental disorders in Vihiga due to high cases of bhang abuse.

However, in the last five years, Emuhaya has only recorded 36 psychiatric patients while Luanda has 345 patients. It is the big number of mental illness cases that has seen Vihiga county government rolling out an intervention program, in partnership with Mindful Kenya, to address mental health issues among residents. 

Ms Linet Indiazi, a psychologist based in Vihiga says that the project aims to strengthen the fight against mental disorders and related health issues across the county. 

She notes that the causes of mental illness in Vihiga range from stress, use of hard drugs and lack of guidance among young people.

“We have seen the report from the National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada) that shows Western counties have the largest cases of drug abuse and this could be a reason for mental sickness,” said Indiazi. 

During the launch of the Mental Health Pilot Programme in Gambogi, the county government together with Mindful Kenya sensitised health workers on issues touching on mental health. 

Medics led by Emmanuel Wasike, chairperson of the Kenya Union of Clinical Officers Vihiga county chapter shared harrowing experiences and urged the county government to strengthen the treatment of mental sickness not only among the medics but also residents. 

“We acknowledge that the health of a nation is dependent on the well-being of the healthcare workers,  that’s why we need to be helped first so we can help patients,” said Wasike.

Mindful Kenya group project team leader Mercy Mwende noted that mental illness cases should be treated with seriousness, just like other health complications.

“We are here in Vihiga to introduce ‘White Coat’, a dedicated initiative for healthcare workers. This will provide accessible, affordable and effective mental health care tailored for different groups,” said Mwende.

Under the project, the county government will set up plans to help healthcare workers through specialised support, addressing personal challenges, and offering stress management resources.

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