•Investing in the prevention and treatment of six of the highly prevalent mental disorders including anxiety, depression and substance use disorders would save the country Sh161.6 billion against an investment of Sh81.7 billion over the next 10 years.
•The Covid-19 pandemic left in its wake not only physical scars among the survivors but also deep psychological wounds that remain largely unattended
Dear President William Samoei Ruto,
Since you took office, you must have received thousands of requests on the causes you should prioritize as the President of Kenya. It is therefore with considerable trepidation that almost knowingly, I choose to add to your burden of choice. Have you thought about mental health, Mr. President?
Mental disorders are both common and very serious. Where they occur, they can interfere with an individual’s capacity to pursue education, work and relationships to family and friends.
A mental illness will almost invariably dim the economic fortunes of the individual, family and needless to say, society. Not uncommonly, mental illness leads to death through suicide and homicide thereby interrupting contribution to national development.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in four persons is likely to suffer from a mental disorder in the course of their lifetime.
REFORMS ARE NECESSARY
Reforms in the policies and practices at the National Hospital Insurance fund (NHIF) would end discrimination by NHIF and other private insurers against persons living with mental illnesses.
Local research shows that nearly half of the Kenyan population has experienced a mental disorder in their lifetime. Mental illnesses are so common that the former director general of WHO, Dr Margret Chan, once stated that rare is the family without an individual suffering a mental disorder.
Kenya experiences certain chronic problems with regard to our mental health system. The pervasive state of poverty, unemployment, insecurity and terrorism among many other challenges outlined in the 2021 mental health task force report are a blight to our mental health.
The Covid-19 pandemic left in its wake not only physical scars among the survivors but also deep psychological wounds that remain largely unattended leading to disorders such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
This happening in a setting where our overall health system is generally weak and mental health awareness low only means that mentally ill persons and their families are suffering in silence. A majority of our counties neither have a mental health policy, plan or budget - which means an absence of a proper framework in which good mental health can be promoted.
The World Psychiatric Association has outlined challenges relating to mental health in African states to include among others; insufficient resources compounded by poor prioritization of the meagre resources where these may be available.
This partly culminates in a constant brain drain of health professionals including mental health professionals. It is therefore hardly surprising that the ratio of psychiatrist to population in European countries is 9/100,000, while the same ratio is 0.05/100,000 for African countries. In Kenya, only 1% of our public hospitals provide mental health services according to a report by the office of the auditor general.
Your voice, Mr. President has the potential to stir the nation and most importantly empower our young people to prioritize their mental health.
It would aid millions who are untreated of their mental illnesses as a result of lack of awareness or discrimination. Your focus on mental health would most likely catch the eye of philanthropists both locally and internationally – attracting resources that would strengthen our mental health system.
These resources could be used to subsidise the cost of mental health care including psychotropic medication and rehabilitative services. An increase in resources available for mental health would lead to improved local research in the field leading to improved quality of care.
Most importantly Mr. President, your involvement in mental health would reduce stigma against persons living with mental illness both directly and indirectly.
It would reduce the stigmatizing criminalisation of mental illness that punishes suicidal behavior and substance use instead of seeking evidence based solutions such as education, treatment and rehabilitation. Reforms in the policies and practices at the National Hospital Insurance fund (NHIF) would end discrimination by NHIF and other private insurers against persons living with mental illnesses.
Mental disorders can interfere with an individual’s capacity to pursue education, work and relationships to family and friends."Dr Chitayi Murabula
The most compelling economic reason for investing in mental health in Kenya is that we can save money and lives from the venture. A study conducted locally and led by the United Nations Development Program has produced evidence that investing in the prevention and treatment of six of the highly prevalent mental disorders including anxiety, depression and substance use disorders would save the country Sh161.6 billion against an investment of Sh81.7 billion over the next 10 years. This makes absolute sense but further to it and even better, we would save 5,000 lives over the same period of time.
We, therefore, urge you to lay a foundation for mental health in all government policies and support the implementation of the Kenya mental health policy (2015-2030) as you begin to build the new government.
Dr Chitayi is the President of the Kenya Psychiatric Association.
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