- The country has witnessed exponential rise in the number of mental disorders in recent years.
- It is estimated that one in every 10 Kenyans suffers from one form of mental disorder.
County governments without a budget for mental health will now be required to do so as the implementation of the new mental health act gains momentum.
The bill sponsored by former nominated senator Sylvia Kasanga was unanimously passed by senators.
This is after it successfully underwent the parliamentary process for more than four years and was signed into law by former president Uhuru Kenyatta.
In a renewed effort to see its implantation, Kasanga has begun meeting county governors to ensure money is set aside to address the rising burden of mental health, with counties that already have budgets expected to scale it up.
“Besides budget we are looking for community based care in treatment of persons with mental illness starting from the community level,” Kasanga said.
“We are talking about community health workers and volunteers to be procured by the county government. We are looking at the county government to have county specific programmes to deal with mental health awareness and stigma fighting,” she added.
This comes amid concern of an ever rising burden of mental illness in the country.
In July 2020, the national taskforce on Mental Health led by Dr Frank Njenga recommended that mental health be declared a national disaster in the country.
He said mental health issues are deep-rooted and it is high time it is given the attention it deserves.
The country has witnessed an exponential rise in the number of mental disorders in recent years with statistics indicating that approximately 20 to 25 per cent of outpatients seeking primary healthcare present symptoms of mental illness.
“The work has actually just started, we have a lot of work to do as mental health advocates and champions. We have to highlight this act and what it means for Kenyans,” Kasanga said.
The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights commissioner Marion Mutugi said people living with mental illness still face a lot of stigma in the society yet they have their rights as other people.
“I know the stigma that goes along with mental health. I also know that people who are living with mental health can live long and productive lives just like the rest of us who have diabetes and arthritis," Mutugi said.
"They can have families, develop their careers and contribute to national building because they also have their rights.”
It is estimated that one in every 10 Kenyans suffers from one form of mental disorder.
Depression and anxiety disorders are the leading mental illnesses diagnosed in the country, followed by substance use disorders.
According to Njenga, it emerged that stigma is driven by the low resources that are associated to the treatment or management of mental disorders.
“If we are going to handle mental health with the dignity it deserves, we really need to finance mental health services in a way that is commensurate with the burden that is there,” Njenga said.
The team recommended that the creation of Mathari Teaching and Referral Hospital as a semi-autonomous government agency for specialised referral services, teaching and research in mental health be fast tracked.
The taskforce said cultural beliefs about causes of mental illnesses are prevalent are still rooted in communities.
These beliefs lead to alienation of the people suffering from mental illness and their families. Some would rather take the patient to a faith healer than to a medical facility.
The Njenga led team found out that in the Kenyan cultural context, people living with mental conditions face societal stereotypes based on ignorance, religious bias, deep rooted traditional and cultural beliefs.