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Changing the narrative around mental health

The  Health Ministry together with CitiesRISE, a global platform that focuses on mental health policy have called for a paradigm shift in enhancing mental health in the country.

This will focus on increasing access to care and support through developing safe spaces in the community by strengthening peer, family, community and institutional support.

“We are moving away from people receiving services from health facilities to mental health champions going to the people and understanding their needs,” Ministry of Health and Sanitation, Director of Mental Health, Dr. Simon Njuguna said.

Speaking on Tuesday during a meeting in Nairobi where mental experts convened to discuss the status of mental health in cities, Dr. Njuguna said, “Mental health is not about mental illness but about the well-being of the people hence we need to train mental health champions and create social network at a community level”.

He further added that the shift will be of benefit since it will create an environment that is mental friendly especially to the young people who are mostly affected by mental illnesses.

“We are focusing on creating a friendly space, encouraging the conversation on mental health at the places of work among young people and building leadership among them to help in implementing the health policies,” Dr. Njuguna added.

The Director also noted that the paradigm shift will be of a great impact to the economic welfare of the Country citing that mental health does not only give health outcomes but also socio-economic outcomes.

“About 10 per cent of Kenyans experience mental issues due to vulnerability to stigma, stresses of life, social relationships and environmental determinants with about 75 per cent of the young people affected,” Dr. Njuguna said.

The  CitiesRISE Chief Executive Officer, Moitreyee Sinha said they have created a platform to allow partners and stakeholders in cities and at global levels to prioritize the importance of mental health and well-being with Nairobi being the first city to spearhead this move.

“Improving mental health by engaging stakeholders across cities in the world is our core aim since mental well-being cuts across all aspects of life from education, productivity at work and family life,” she said.

She further said that they will achieve profound social transformation on the issue of mental well-being by involving the entire community and putting the young people at the center.

“Improving mental health of the young people is the greatest untapped opportunity of our time hence there is need to mobilize young people, encourage, practice transformation and harness innovative technologies among them,” Sinha said.

The  American Psychological Association Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Arthur  Evans encouraged the importance of the community owning the issues relating to mental illness other than leaving the focus on professionals trained in the field.

By  Nancy Marende/ Ian Munjuga

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