Cultivate national culture of openly discussing mental health issues

Monica Anne from Vision Mental Health Care training journalists from Migori and Homa Bay counties on trauma on September 6, 2023. [Caleb Kingwara, Standard]

The recent unveiling of Workplace Mental Wellness Guidelines in Kenya couldn't have come at a more pivotal time. Addressing the silent stresses and strains that countless professionals bear, this initiative isn't merely about safeguarding well-being-it's a testament to the broader transformation society is undergoing.

The focus is not confined to the workplace, it reaches into a wider conversation about the importance of mental health in our daily lives, reflecting a global momentum that we should wholeheartedly champion. While figures may not capture the full magnitude of the issue in the country, Kenya's own numbers underline the urgency.

The Kenya Mental Health Policy's findings, which reveal that at least one in four Kenyans will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, resonate deeply with many, including myself. The tragic loss of my younger brother to suicide remains a poignant reminder that mental health challenges are often suffered in silence, even by those closest to us.

Could we have noticed the signs? What could we have done differently? While we can't change the past, we have the power to shape the future. As an ambassador for Bipolar UK, my commitment is both personal and profound. It's why I've dedicated myself to furthering mental health awareness, especially in my role as President of Rotary International. With over 1.4 million members worldwide, Rotary has been at the forefront of confronting mental health challenges, urging communities to break the stigma and create pathways to support and care.

The Rotary Club of Nairobi, Lavington, organises an annual Mental Health Bikeathon to launch a technology platform for self-diagnosing common mental health disorders and substance abuse, and to raise funds for mental health initiatives. Rotary Clubs in Bungoma and Western Kenya are embarking on missions to train community leaders and health workers in mental health screening, treatment, and outreach, further underscoring their dedication to the cause. Rotary Clubs have been proactive in facilitating discussions by creating platforms for dialogue with mental health experts. Mental health intricately weaves through every facet of our society, from ensuring peaceful communities and driving socioeconomic development to navigating the challenges posed by climate change.

As we grapple with 'eco-anxiety' and the need for resilient mental health structures amidst climate disasters, the significance grows clearer. I will be leading the Rotary delegation at COP28 in Dubai, highlighting the profound intersections between mental well-being and our environment. Despite recognising the vast implications of mental health, society grapples with gaps in support and a culture that stigmatise these issues. Anyone; our friends, family, or even ourselves, can be affected. Cultivating a culture where we openly discuss these issues and seek help is important.

Our goal is clear: Foster dialogue, champion community support, and roll out projects that address present concerns and resonate for years to come. As Kenya ushers in the Workplace Mental Wellness Guidelines, let us remember that mental health requires our collective voice, action, and compassion. Join us as we champion this cause. Recognise mental health challenges in your communities and ignite conversations.

The bonds formed through a sense of belonging - at work, as part of a religious community, a Rotary Club, or any communal setting - are pivotal in nurturing our mental health, offering a network of support and understanding that can be our stronghold in times of need. Together, we can ensure the silence surrounding mental health transforms into understanding, support, and hope.