Why We Need A Renewed Urgency and Strategy in Addressing Mental Health in Kenya

Yes­ter­day, I was pleas­ant­ly sur­prised to hear about an inno­v­a­tive strat­e­gy that Karu­ra Com­mu­ni­ty Church is devel­op­ing to engage the youth on men­tal health. With May being cel­e­brat­ed as Men­tal Health Aware­ness Month, their time­ly ini­tia­tive aims to trans­form the church into a cen­ter of excel­lence where men­tal health mat­ters are addressed dai­ly, not just spo­rad­i­cal­ly. This thought-pro­vok­ing approach made me delve deep­er into the sub­ject, prompt­ing a reflec­tion on the broad­er impli­ca­tions and the urgent need for a renewed strat­e­gy in com­bat­ing men­tal health chal­lenges in Kenya.

Men­tal health is a silent epi­dem­ic that is grow­ing by the day, touch­ing the lives of mil­lions around the world and in Kenya. Accord­ing to the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion, approx­i­mate­ly 25% of the pop­u­la­tion will expe­ri­ence a men­tal health dis­or­der at some point in their lives. In Kenya, this trans­lates to around 12 mil­lion peo­ple, a stag­ger­ing fig­ure that under­scores the urgency of the situation.

Fam­i­lies, par­tic­u­lar­ly par­ents, are often hit hard­est by men­tal health issues. They are the first line of sup­port, yet they fre­quent­ly lack the nec­es­sary resources and knowl­edge to effec­tive­ly assist their loved ones. This lack of sup­port can lead to feel­ings of iso­la­tion for those affect­ed, exac­er­bat­ing their con­di­tions. The stig­ma sur­round­ing men­tal health only deep­ens this iso­la­tion, as indi­vid­u­als fear judg­ment and rejection.

One of the unique trig­gers of men­tal health issues in Kenya is the com­par­i­son and increased lev­el of mate­ri­al­ism. Social media and soci­etal pres­sures push indi­vid­u­als to con­stant­ly com­pare them­selves with oth­ers, lead­ing to feel­ings of inad­e­qua­cy and low self-esteem. This relent­less pur­suit of mate­r­i­al suc­cess can take a toll on men­tal well-being.

The COVID-19 pan­dem­ic has also brought to light the fragili­ty of men­tal health. Fam­i­lies spent more time togeth­er, reveal­ing under­ly­ing issues and open­ing “cans of worms” that were pre­vi­ous­ly hid­den. This peri­od of intro­spec­tion led many to real­ize that the image pro­ject­ed by their par­ents or guardians was not always accu­rate, lead­ing to dis­il­lu­sion­ment and stress.

Fur­ther­more, many indi­vid­u­als suf­fer from the con­se­quences of unfin­ished busi­ness, tox­ic rela­tion­ships, and reck­less sex. These fac­tors can lead to feel­ings of guilt, shame, and regret, fur­ther impact­ing men­tal health.

Con­sid­er­ing these chal­lenges, it is imper­a­tive that Kenya adopts a renewed strat­e­gy to com­bat men­tal health issues. Here are three strate­gic approach­es that I sug­gest could make a sig­nif­i­cant difference:

First, we need to real­is­ti­cal­ly work towards enhanc­ing men­tal health edu­ca­tion and aware­ness. This is key in break­ing the stig­ma around men­tal health. By incor­po­rat­ing well-thought-out school pro­grams, com­mu­ni­ty-dri­ven work­shops, and unprece­dent­ed and con­sis­tent media cam­paigns, we can cre­ate a more informed and sup­port­ive society.

Sec­ond­ly, I sug­gest that we sen­si­bly strength­en our sup­port sys­tems. Estab­lish­ing com­mu­nal sup­port units and helplines and form­ing fam­i­ly edu­ca­tion pro­grams through church­es, mosques, and var­i­ous faith-based insti­tu­tions, like what Karu­ra Com­mu­ni­ty Church is doing, pro­vide a spir­i­tu­al and social safe space for indi­vid­u­als to share their expe­ri­ences and seek help.

Third­ly, it is urgent that we employ strate­gic poli­cies that can improve access to men­tal health ser­vices. The cur­rent impasse in health is a shame to the Kenyan com­mu­ni­ty and must nev­er be allowed to occur. We must employ and train more health work­ers, deploy many mobile clin­ics, and guar­an­tee sub­si­dized treat­ment through a sus­tain­able approach at the grass­roots lev­el. This approach must be sup­port­ed by both the gov­ern­ment and the pri­vate sector.

For sure, men­tal health is an issue that requires imme­di­ate and con­cert­ed efforts from all sec­tors of our soci­ety. It is a cri­sis that also comes with mind-bog­gling busi­ness oppor­tu­ni­ties that are social­ly prof­itable. The secret lies in iden­ti­fy­ing such oppor­tu­ni­ties that not only result in men­tal well­ness but also envi­ron­men­tal well-being. The fact that one in every four peo­ple has a men­tal issue should real­ly scare us. And no won­der we seem unable to rec­on­cile with each oth­er and cre­ate a com­mon front that deals a major blow to our cur­rent eco­nom­ic chal­lenges. Aisee tuchangamke, iko ka issue! Think green, act green!


About Dr. Kalua Green

He is the Chief Stew­ard of Green Africa Group, a con­glom­er­ate that was envi­sioned in 1991 to con­nect, pro­duce and impact var­i­ous aspi­ra­tions of human­i­ty through Sus­tain­able Mobil­i­ty & Safe­ty Solu­tions, Eco­pre­neur­ship & Agribusi­ness, Ship­ping & Logis­tics, Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Ini­tia­tives, as well as Hos­pi­tal­i­ty & fur­nish­ings sectors

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