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Drought fueling mental illness cases in Kenya

The ongoing drought in most parts of the country has caused immeasurable financial distress and emotional torture to pastoralists.

Pastoralists in Kajiado County have lost thousands of livestock to the unrelenting drought which has persisted for almost two years now as a result of poor rainfall.

Areas most affected include Kajiado East, Central and South with herders forced to relocate livestock to Kajiado West and the neighboring counties of Machakos, Makueni and Narok in search of pasture and water.

Speaking during an event to mark World Mental Health Day in Kajiado town, Deputy Governor Martin Moshisho revealed that cases of patients presenting symptoms of mental illnesses have been on the increase in the recent past due to the effects of the drought.

Moshisho noted that the effects of the drought have resulted in a high number of people presenting with depression and suicide.

“The most frequent diagnosis of mental illnesses made in general hospital outpatient settings are depression, psychosis, drug and alcohol abuse, stress-related illnesses and anxiety disorders,” Moshisho said.

Another cause of mental illness is the high number of teenage pregnancies which affects the physical and mental health of young mothers often for a lifetime.

Drugs and substance abuse among the youth also contributes to the high cases of mental illnesses.

The Deputy Governor urged persons going through tough situations to speak up to avoid slipping into depression and seek help from mental health facilities available at county hospitals.

He noted the need for concerted efforts to eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness by actively supporting those in mental distress.

Moshisho pointed out that mental illness is a disease like any other and those facing mental health challenges deserve to be helped instead of being discriminated against.

“Help is available; you do not need to suffer in silence. We have teenage and adolescent mental health clinics at our Health facilities in Kajiado, Ngong, Kitengela, Oloitoktok and Namanga to mitigate issues arising from mental illnesses,” said Moshisho.

He added that the county had also established a working relationship with Rehabilitation Centers within the County to treat residents who require alcohol and drug abuse interventions.

Moshisho further revealed that a Level 6 Mental Health Facility is being constructed in Ngong, Kajiado North to help deal with rising cases of mental illness in the country.

The 600-bed facility will be built on an 80-hectare piece of land and will be a regional center of excellence not only for the treatment of Mental Health conditions but also for the training of Medical Personnel serving the whole East African Community and beyond.

World Mental Health Day, marked on 10 October every year, provides an opportunity to draw attention to Africa’s large and growing burden of mental health conditions, with children and adolescents the worst impacted.

This year’s theme, “Make Mental Health and 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 a global rise in depression and anxiety.

The World Health Organization (WHO), estimates that up to 25 percent of outpatient visits in Kenya and up to 40 percent of inpatients in health facilities suffer from mental health illnesses.

Fifty percent of all mental health disorders start by the age of 14 years or earlier but go undetected and 75 percent present by the age of 24 years.

By Rop Janet

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