The Kisumu County-based Kodiaga Maximum Prison was a bee hive of activities on Monday as it hosted this year’s World Mental Health Day to honour people living with mental illness as Mental Health champions in the region.
The day began with a 4 km procession by the participants from the Riat Centre at Kisumu International Airport roundabout to the correctional facility located in the Otonglo area.
Songs, dances, poems and skits rent the air as stakeholders among them mental patients took to the stage to create awareness and entertain the participants during the colorful event.
CECM for Health and Sanitation Kisumu County, Dr. Greg Ganda noted that Mental illness which is on the increase due to urbanization, stress, and economic hardships needs to be addressed firmly and swiftly.
“You only need to open your daily newspaper to read about someone who has committed suicide, somebody beat up his wife, killed, burnt, and then committed suicide,” said Dr. Ganda.
He urged the partners and advocates who have tirelessly brought the Mental Health issue to the national limelight to passionately keep holding the flame aloft.
To achieve this, he observed, the stakeholders should stop making mere speeches, but instead walk the talk by solving the problem at the primary healthcare level through early diagnosis.
He disclosed that the County has taken the lead by identifying and early screening Mental Disorders before they worsen.
In this way, he said, they will be able to determine those who are at risk and are likely to develop mental illness.
“We want to ensure that next year when we shall be marking the next world Mental health day, we shall have screened 30,000 people,” Dr.Ganda said.
According to Dr.Ganda, the county is working on establishing a fully-equipped Psychiatrist Unit at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital (JOOTRH).
Through early communal sensitization and planning, Ganda intimated that Community Health Workers (CHW) equipped with a screening tool will visit homes and households at the grassroots level to find out people at risk and in need of help.
In a show of commitment to tackling Mental Health-related issues, he said that the County has completed the refurbishment of Nyangoma Rehabilitation Centre in Muhoroni Sub County.
“We also commit that in the next five years, we must have a Mental Health Institution in Kisumu that will cater for the whole Lake region,” he said adding that they will partner with Lake Region Economic Bloc (LREB) and the National Government.
TINADA Youth Organization(TIYO) Director, Roy Otieno, said that they are focusing on integrated mental health rights education and campaigns among the marginalized families and youths in the Lake Region through capacity building, support services, mentorship, demonstrated good practices and strategic networking.
Otieno said that they are collaborating with other stakeholders including National and County governments to be at the forefront of combating Mental challenges such as Mental Disability and Mental Illness.
“We help in reducing stigmatization and discrimination of persons living with mental health illness including epilepsy and drug addicts and their families through a brain awareness program,” Otieno said.
According to WHO, this year’s World Mental Health theme, “Make Mental Health Wellbeing for All a Global Priority,” serves as a reminder that, after nearly three years, the social isolation, fear of disease and death, and strained socio-economic circumstances associated with the Covid-19 pandemic have contributed to an estimated 25 percent global rise in depression and anxiety.
More than 116 million people across Sub-Saharan Africa, WHO estimates, were already living with mental health conditions pre-pandemic. A high suicide rate, WHO cautions, still remains a major concern, as are the exponential rates of alcohol use and abuse among adolescents as young as 13 years of age.
“Some 1.9 million people suffer from depression and out of every six people who go to the hospital, five of them have Mental Health-related issues,” NACADA’s Esther Okenye said while advising that people need to start with themselves and whoever goes to the hospital needs to divulge to the doctor all their problems in perspective.
She pointed out to the attentive stakeholders that people who suffer from Substance-Use-Disorders pose a significant challenge while dealing with them because they suffer from a lot of stigmas and they don’t come out to seek treatment.
Okenye, however, urged the County Government to hasten the full operationalization of Nyangoma Rehabilitation Centre to swiftly assist with mental health-related issues as presently there exists no such facility within the locality.
She also alluded to a partnership with Kodiaga Prison to put up a similar facility within its vast compound to provide much-needed services to people who are in dire need.
“More often than not, what kills our recovering addicts are After-Care Services. Suppose we could put in some money for championing After-Care Services, especially those people who are being treated for Substance-Use-Disorders. In that case, it will go a long way in firmly dealing with Mental Health issues,” she noted.
Western Regional Prisons Commander, David Koech, speaking during the event, said that they will strive to continue working closely with other Mental Health stakeholders to help in addressing Mental Health-related issues among its inmates and staff.
He appreciated the great assistance they have been receiving from the JOOTRH management when dealing with Mental Health issues.
Ganda lauded the organizations and champions who ensured that the event was a success while hoping that the partnership will continue in the future.
The event was also graced by the CEO of JOORTH Dr. George Rae, and Kisumu Medical Health Director Fredrick Oluoch among others.
By Rolex Omondi