Kenyans urged to embrace conversation around mental health

Counties Editor's Pick Health Murang'a

Kenyans have been urged to embrace conversations surrounding mental health awareness to reduce the stigma around mental illnesses and help those affected to cope with the illness better.

Clinical psychologist at Murang’a level five hospital Julia Mwai observes that mental health involves our psychological wellbeing, our emotions, thoughts and actions and it is important as it dictates how one relates with others.

Mwai argues that the mental health conversation and awareness is important especially now when cases of suicides and homicide in the country were at alarming levels.

She notes that awareness allows for early detection of mental illness thus early intervention

“We are living in very difficult times owing to the high cost of living and you find that there is a breakdown of social protection structures that would typically buffer a person against stress,” she adds.

The psychologist opined that it was therefore paramount that people look out for the common symptoms of mental illness.

“Symptoms vary depending on the disorder and the predisposing factor but some common symptoms to look out for include extreme mood changes, social withdrawal, major changes in sleep and feeding patterns or even disorganized behaviour and speech,” she added.

“Others may manifest paranoia, hallucinations, feelings of sadness and despair and hopelessness which may be accompanied by suicidal thoughts,” she further explained.

These symptoms, Mwai noted, may affect daily living and functioning of an individual and in extreme cases may lead to suicide and or homicide, drug addictions or dependency, repeated psychiatric admissions, poor relationships and ability to take care of self which may lead to other outcomes.

Mwai certainly underscored the abuse of drugs and substance as a contributing factor to mental illness and consequent harming of self or others as drugs impair a person’s judgement causing them to act in ways they normally would not.

“In recent years, we have seen a rise in the number of persons of ages 20 to 35 presenting with mental illness. Moreover, most of these cases are drug induced of which common drugs being abused include alcohol and marijuana,” notes Mwai.

At the Murang’a Level Five hospital psychologist’s department, she discloses that they review approximately 150 patients in a month noting that this number is not inclusive of those seen at the psychiatric and social work departments.

Whereas a lot of sensitization, budgeting and training of personnel needs to be done as the mental health burden is still significant, the psychologist discloses that the department uses community outreaches, patient education during clinics, social media platforms and every opportunity that may be available to psycho-educate people on psycho-social health so as to create mental health awareness.

By Florence Kinyua

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