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County gov’t heightens mental health awareness drive

The Kisumu County government has unveiled elaborate mechanisms to create public awareness of mental health illnesses in the area.

September being Suicide Prevention Month, the lakeside County, working with other partners continues to sensitize the public on the causative signs, dangers lurking leading to possible suicidal attempts and more crucially how to apply mental health prevention methods.

Dr. Gregory Ganda, CECM in charge of Health said that the awareness creation is part of build-up activities for World Mental Day. The health department has lined up activities to be conducted through community dialogue and mental screening at the community level with the help of Community Health Workers (CHWs).

‘Emergency Psychosocial Support will be available to the public through a call centre -EOC- with toll-free lines manned by personnel trained on how to handle patients who make call-ins for assistance,’ Dr. Ganda revealed.

This, he said, is a wellness programme running for 30 days addressing anxieties and depression which are major contributors to suicide and mental health issues.

Dr. Ganda observes that members of the public and mental health patients will have easy access and be made aware of their mental health status by a team of experienced counsellors, psychiatrists and CHVs.

He added that the drive will be jointly undertaken by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital (JOORTH), Kisumu County Referral Hospital (KCRH), the Kenya Red Cross, NACADA, TINADA Youth Organisation and other stakeholders.

‘We have reliable and responsive Mental Health Focal Persons-MHFP-at every Sub-County Level across the county,’ he said adding that CHVs will be trained to increase the number of caregivers and also act as focal persons in the wards.

To further augment the concerted efforts, the County Health Department is at an advanced stage of planning to implement the National Suicide Prevention Strategy 2021-2026 through the formation of working groups and institution-based approaches that includes the media, CSOs and MDAs.

In order to address the holistic component of health, Dr Ganda also disclosed that there are crucial plans to develop Kenya Mental Health Action Plan 2022-2026 in line with Kenya Mental Health Action Plan 2021-2025, and plans to implement the critical contents of Mental Health Act 2022 pending the gazettement of the Act.

Caren Oreng, the Counsel-Psychologist at TINADA Youth Organization said that they specifically deal with psychological issues, help people air their mental issues affecting them, and guide them to see and think positively however bad it might be in their everyday life.

Oreng avers that the majority of those with suicidal thoughts have got mental illness, or could be suffering from mental depression, personality disorder, psychosis and sometimes going through their worst part in life and they feel that they are tired.

Leading by example, Oreng a champion-activist against suicidal attempts and mental health has rescued and adopted two girls aged 8 and 14 years from the jaws of family-inflicted childhood traumas, abuse, neglect and rejections when they were young.

Loice Omondi, the Kisumu County Mental Health Champion and Ambassador based at the JOORTH, has encouraged the victims to ventilate their views through radio talk shows to share their experiences and motivate others.

‘We need to clearly distinguish between mental health, mental disability and mental illness when we are seeking to adequately address them,’ said Loice, a runner-up in a Global Mental Campaign.

Pointing out concerns on statistics, Dr. Ganda alluded that suicide still remains a criminal offence and highly stigmatized so reporting is poor, and is mainly available in surveys and police reports. But, earnest efforts are being made to make suicide a mental health issue through amendments to legislation and fighting related stigma.

Significantly, the County is currently working on creating a Dashboard for keeping integrated data which will highlight the age, gender, typography, prevalence and demographics of mental health patients.

It will be achieved through the transmission of data from different entities like schools and mental screening centres and there are high hopes that the data system will be unveiled during World Mental Health Day.

In light of the foregoing exercise, Rebecca Odhiambo, of Western Kenya LBQT Feminist Forum-WKLFF-, an Advocacy agency focused on building community among its members, has called for a standard tool that will not make the LGBTQI community feel it’s a mental issue or seems to be pathologized by it.

‘The LGBTQI community should have the ability to access the integrated data based on gender and sex,’ she recommended during an interactive session with other stakeholders held at KCRH on Wednesday.

Kisumu Counselors and Psychologists Association-KCPA- Chairman, Tom Onyango called for enhanced Psychological First Aid Trainings-PFA-, as he informed that there are only 500 psychiatrists in the country.

The participants also called on the routine maintenance and repair of the Electroencephalogram-EEG-machine that’s based at JOORTH to swiftly detect abnormalities in the brain waves, or in the electrical activity of a patient’s brain.

Other multifaceted awareness approaches initiated by the County are the use of mainstream and social media platforms –Twitter, WhatsApp, Webinars, and Facebook-which are cost-effective and command high target audience reaches.

Also mooted is the distribution of brochures, holding walk processions, talk shows, and mental screenings and advocacy teams.

In their quest to achieve this year’s World Mental Health Prevention under the theme, ‘Make Mental Health Well-being a global health for all,’ the County has also mooted the distribution of brochures; holding walk processions, talk shows, and mental screenings and advocacy teams.

In future progressions, the county is working on having a fully-equipped Psychiatrist Unit at the JOORTH, giving waivers to CHVs training on mental health at the Community Health Centres-CHC, and advocacy for mental patients to have IDs to help them enjoy medical covers like Marwa, UHC and NHIF.

Dr. Ganda urged stakeholders to continue upholding coordinated health services through ambulances, emergency health professionals and linkages.

By Rolex Omondi

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