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Change in lifestyle key in addressing mental challenges

Mental health experts are calling on stakeholders in the sector to address inequality as a way of improving mental health in the country.

Director of Mental Health in the Ministry of Health Dr Simon Njuguna called on Kenyans to adopt an active lifestyle saying doing so helps reduce stress and social ills such as domestic violence.

He noted that currently one in every four Kenyans practices a sedentary lifestyle.

“It has been proven through science that physical activity improves physical wellbeing. We need to create an active society. A sedentary life makes people unhealthy,” Dr Njuguna said.

The Director was speaking Saturday during a cycling event at Mathari Hospital in Nairobi, organized to mark World Mental Health Day which will be celebrated on October 10, 2021.

The event dubbed “mental health ride” is part of activities that have been running since World Suicide Prevention Day on 10th September and 10th October to promote mental well-being.

He said cycling was chosen for the event as it represents physical activity which is one of the ways of promoting mental health and preventing mental ill health.  Depression is one of the most prevalent mental illnesses in the country with half of the people who go to general hospitals for any reason found to be suffering from the illness.

Prof. Lukoye Atwoli, the Chairman of Mathari National Teaching and Referral Hospital noted that many Kenyans are battling mental illnesses and are unaware of their mental status.

“The truth of the matter is that inequality fuels mental ill health. People with mental illness in a world that is unequal tend to be in the lower ranks of society. They have less access to all services including mental health services,” he said.

“We are highlighting this so that the world and governments can think about ensuring that even the poorest of the poor have access to mental health services,” he added.

He said investing in mental health was a worthwhile activity noting that every shilling invested in mental health yields five to seven shillings in productivity.

The 18-kilometer non-competitive cycling event was attended by over 150 riders of different ages, including children, and sought to raise awareness about mental health in the country.

In 2019 President Uhuru Kenyatta recognized mental illness as a crisis in the country and formed a taskforce on mental health which recommended that Mathari Hospital be refurbished, among other recommendations.

“We have a plan to ensure that Mathari will be the apex teaching and referral hospital in the country. But there will be six or seven other facilities across the country offering the same level of services,” Prof Atwoli said.

The theme for the upcoming mental health day that will be marked on 10th of October 2021 is, “Mental health in an unequal world”.

By Joseph Ng’ang’a


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