Government should declare mental illness a National Emergency , Taskforce says

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The  Health Cabinet Secretary, Mutaha Kagwe and Dr. Frank Njenga, the Chair of the Mental Task Force on Tuesday July 7, 2020. Photo by KNA.
Handing  over  of  the mental health task force report on Tuesday July 7,2020. Photo by KNA.

The  rising numbers of mental health related cases in the country, such as depression, and other mental illnesses, some of which end up in suicide cases, have been a concern to the Government.

The Health Cabinet Secretary (CS), Mutahi Kagwe said that In Kenya, an estimated 10 people suffer from a common mental disorder with the number increasing to one in every four people among patients attending routine outpatient services.

Speaking on Tuesday at Afya House when receiving the Final Report from the Taskforce on Mental Health, Kagwe said Depression and anxiety disorders are the leading mental illnesses diagnosed in Kenya, followed by substance use disorders.

The Formation of the Task force was ordered by the President last year with the primary mandate to, study the status of mental health in country and was inaugurated on 11th December 2019, and comprised of a multi sectoral team from the Ministry of Health, and other agencies under the leadership of Dr. Frank Njenga.

Among the different types of substances, the CS added that alcohol contributes to the largest burden of substance use related illnesses in Kenya and the greatest concern is that alcohol abuse is most prevalent in the 18-29-year-old age group.

Some of the key findings by task force shows Kagwe said is that Majority of Kenyans associate mental health and mental illness with negative narratives leading to low focus on the importance and benefits of mental health and wellbeing.

“From analysis of the key findings, the taskforce has made recommended that there be an establishment of a mental health commission, and happiness, to advise, coordinate and continuously monitor the status of mental health, and report on the annual National Happiness Index.

He explained that the country’s total bed capacity for mental healthcare is 1,600, out of which 400 are in the private sector. There are four public facilities providing treatment and rehabilitation services for substance use disorders, and 14 County hospitals mental health units offering specialized mental healthcare.

Kagwe  congratulated the team that worked hard and diligently saying that that the ministry , moving forward will take the matter seriously and intends to create a stand-alone semi-autonomous institutions to spear head reforms within mental health care area, in addition to the construction of a world class mental health facilities and training and ensuring top notch facilities, resources in mental health care.

According to the World Health Organization, Kenya’s mortality rate due to suicide is ranked 29th worldwide with an estimate of 5.6 per 100,000 persons.

Speaking during the handing over of the taskforce report, Chair of the Taskforce on Mental Health, Dr. Frank Njenga said the report is the voice of the people calling to be heard on the important mental health agenda which is a ticking time bomb that Kenyans are sitting on.

“As a taskforce we recommend that the Cabinet declare mental illness a national emergency of epidemic proportions and also prioritize mental health as priority public health and social economic agenda for individuals families, communities and nation at large”, Dr. Njenga said .

He said that as a task force completes its mandate even as the country and the world is experiencing unprecedented calamity in Covid 19 pandemic, Dr. Njenga said its effects on the mental health of Kenyans is causing enormous health , socio economic and psychological impact on the population.

“The urgent implementation of these recommendations will be critical in the short and long term response to Covid 19 pandemic “ Dr. Njenga, adding that as a task force is also recommending for a gazette that the second week of October be the National Mental Health Awareness Week in Kenya.

Other Kenya findings of the task force A few of the key findings of the Taskforce indicate that Kenya has a high burden of mental illness due to ill health, psychosocial disability and premature immortality with huge gaps in access to care .

On June 1st last year during Madaraka day celebrations, President Uhuru Kenyatta said that the country was facing a a mental health crisi and ordered the Ministry of health to implement programmes and policies to address the problem. The task force reviewed literature on mental health in the country and engaged over 1,569 Kenyans , visited various counties for ideas on potential solutions and even received 206 memoranda submitted via emails, hand copies and also on their website.

By  Wangari  Ndirangu

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