There is no health without mental health. A healthy mind is a necessity for achieving sustainable development. The sustainable development goals unveiled in 2015 served as a second chance to achieving redemption to those countries that had failed to attain most of the millennial development goals. In achieving this goal, health cannot be a subject swept under the rug. Most African countries have made progress in bettering physical health care of the country’s people but in most cases, mental health has been long forgotten. Mental health is not an easy topic such that most illnesses such as depression lack a name in most native languages.
Collins Chitai is a mental health advocate and a member of the Kenya Psychiatry Association. He sheds more light on this alien topic.
State of mental health awareness among Kenyans so far?
On a range of good to poor, I would say poor. This is because mental health has not been given the priority it deserves. The number of mental health professionals in the country is few and the sick are continually stigmatized in the environments they live in whereas 80% of the population ages 19-34 suffer from mental health illnesses.
What do you think contributes to this?
access to mental health is expensive in the country and very few can afford it. Most patients are stigmatized and people run away from them including family members as mental health is still a taboo in some parts of the country.
Any prominent cases of mental health in the country?
The suicides rates in the country are becoming extreme. They have not been attributed to mental health but no healthy mind can actually do that. Taking a close look at things mental illness plays a role. Poverty and stigmatization play a role in instilling mental issues yet nothing is done.
The most affected population age when it comes to mental illnesses?
14-39 years harbours the population with the most incidences of mental health. This population mostly suffers stress-related problems which is a mental illness.
Any policies by the government to regulate the cost of mental health?
There is a policy that Kenya psychiatrists are looking up to which has not yet been implemented. It only exists on paper. The psychiatrists appealed to the ministry of health but are yet to receive any feedback.
Challenges faced by mental health professionals?
There was a case at Mathari hospital. The professionals were complaining of a lack of support from the government on mental health. Some have to dig deep into their pockets so as to help the patients. They are forced to purchase hospital equipment. The number of mental health is dismal as well making the few professionals overwhelmed.
Access to mental health is expensive in the country and very few can afford it. Most are stigmatized and people run away from them including family members
In your opinion how can we spread awareness to the grass root levels?
The government must collaborate with the professionals for there to be a link and cohesion to allow transition and see the way forward in seeing the training of professionals at the grass root level. The media should also be incorporated in spreading awareness so as to reduce stigmatization.
How best can mental health patients be handled by caregivers?
They need to be treated as patients with any other illnesses. Mental health caregivers should also speak out to reduce stigmatization.