New approach to fight mental health stigma

Tuesday, August 17th, 2021 00:00 | By
Mathari Mental Hospital. Photo/Courtesy

A report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2014 placed Kenya fourth in the highest number of depressed people in Africa and ninth globally.

Since then, cases of mental disorder have continued to rapidly rise with government statistics indicating that at least one in every four Kenyans suffer a mental illness at one point in their lives.

It is estimated that 20-25 per cent of outpatients seeking primary healthcare display symptoms of mental illness at any given time.

In recent times, cases of suicide and killing of loved ones are being witnessed in the country with the Directorate of Criminal Investigations reports revealing that at least 483 people committing suicide in the last three months. 

Even though not all of these cases are caused by depression and other mental related disorders, a good number have been confirmed to result from this.

Similarly, prominent personalities have come out to share their stories of how they have battled mental health challenges over the past one year.

Public figures

For instance, after the death of Churchill show comedian Njenga Mswahili, who was popularly known as “Njenga Mswahili”, award-winning comedian Eric Omondi revealed that the deceased had confided in him that he was depressed.

Omondi said public figures with no steady income had higher chances of sinking into depression, because they had nowhere to seek help due to their celebrity lifestyle.  

 In Kisii, records show an increase in mental health challenges in the last five years, with the county recording at least 60 cases of suicides in six months.

According to local mental health professionals, the causes of suicide include childhood traumas, physical abuse from friends and family, break-up of relationships, financial difficulties, alcohol and substance abuse, bipolar and parental laxity in disciplining children.

Due to rampant cases of suicide in the region, a Community Based Organisation (CBO) has come out to address mental health through provision of medication, psycho and occupational therapies using a multi-sectoral approach.

 The CBO, Kivulini Healthy Minds, was established in 2018 by a team of mental health experts including doctors, counselors, psychiatrists, psychologists with a vision to provide better health and well being for all, now and for the future generation.

 Organisation has been creating awareness on mental health among various stakeholders such as boda boda riders, police officers, caregivers, healthcare workers and community members.

Rodgers Omuya, a psychiatrist and chairperson of Kivulini, says the message about mental health has not been amplified enough and for this reason, Kisii residents have continued to associate it with witchcraft.

 In addition, the organisation has been targeting these stakeholders because they realised that people with mental disorder are often mistreated and stigmatised by individuals who ought to help them.  

“As we talk to the police about their status and how to prevent suicide, we also teach them how to deal with someone who has attempted suicide, that once the person is arrested, they should be taken to a health facility and not a police cell where they can use any other means to end their lives,” he says.

 Omuya notes that caregivers, family members and the local community can play a critical role of preventing suicides by identifying any slight change in behaviour for action as well as reintegrating mentally-ill persons into the community.

 “Usually before we discharge a person with mental illness, we engage the family on socio-support to ensure they are not condemned or ridiculed as this would only worsen their condition,” Omuya explains.

Growing need

He says they intend to include the local administration, churches, schools and vernacular radio stations to increase awareness on matters of mental health.

Omuya further notes that the local administration have been instrumental in identifying people with mental illness, especially during this period of Covid-19 where community barazas are prohibited.  

Counselling psychologist at Kisii Teaching and Referral Hospital, Ruth Mogaka, says it is important for all departments in private and public sectors to identify mental health issues among staff for action.

 “There is a growing need for departments to avail psychiatric management services and encourage communication among members to identify problems that staff are facing,” says Mogaka.

 She adds that most individuals who have killed themselves did not get an opportunity to share their problems.

 Omuya, however, decries the cost of mental health treatment, saying that despite the availability of second-generation drugs that are more effective and have fewer side effects, the drugs are expensive and cannot be accessed at public health facilities.

 As such, he implores the government to avail second-generation antipsychotics in public facilities and regulate the prices.

 Kivulini’s long-term goal is to establish a stand-alone mental health facility where social workers can provide treatment, research on causes of increased mental illnesses and teach community members on accepting people with mental health disorders. —KNA

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