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Let's all support the mental health task force

WHO says number of suicides reported in Kenya rose by 58% between 2008 and 2017.

In Summary

• President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered the appointment of the taskforce as Kenya held its first mental health conference. It is led by psychiatrist Frank Njenga.

• Kenya has barely 100 psychiatrists for a population of 47 million. 

Mental health.
Mental health.
Image: THE STAR ILLUSTRATED

The task force appointed last month to look into the status of mental health starts its countrywide tour this morning.

President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered the appointment of the taskforce as Kenya held its first mental health conference. It is led by psychiatrist Frank Njenga.

Traditionally, mental illnesses were associated with curses, witchcraft, spiritual problems. The diseases can be treated and managed if and when addressed appropriately. 

Psychiatrists say that the triggers for mental illness include eating or sleeping too much or too little, isolation from people feeling numb or like nothing matters, feeling helpless or hopeless, drinking and using drugs more than usual, confusion, forgetfulness, yelling or fighting with family and friends, severe mood swings hearing voices or believing things that are not true.

The World Health Organisation says the number of suicides reported in Kenya rose by 58 per cent between 2008 and 2017. Out of the 421 suicide cases in 2017, about 75 per cent were men.

But Kenya lacks the personnel to adequately address these problems. It has barely 100 psychiatrists for a population of 47 million. In addition, support staff like clinical psychologists and medical social workers are also few. 

The Njenga team will have to address the socio-economic aspects of today's Kenya including unfulfilled political and economic promises.