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Lack of funding, main challenge facing mental health in Kenya

A  leading Psychiatrist, Dr. Frank Njenga has decried lack of funding by both the national and county governments as the main challenge facing mental health care in the country.

Dr. Njenga  said mental health is not a priority agenda for both levels of government despite its integral role in development.

He  underscored the need for the governments to set aside adequate resources as outlined in the Mental Health Policy.

Dr. Njenga  who  is the Chair of the Mental Health Taskforce formed by former Health Cabinet Secretary, Sicily  Kariuki to look into the status of mental health in the country was speaking on Monday at the St. Joseph’s Multipurpose Hall during a public hearing.

The psychiatrist however, noted that despite the challenge of funding the country has made major strides in addressing mental health, which was in the past shrouded in mystery and stigma.

He termed the recommendations in the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report to establish a mental health wellness monitoring system as revolutionary and a major breakthrough in tackling mental health issues in the country.

‘‘The BBI’s proposal for the country to produce a happiness index, is a novel idea and a recognition of the central role played by mental health in development,’’ noted Dr. Njenga.

The psychiatrist hailed Makueni for being the first county to establish a fully-fledged counselling unit and urged other counties to replicate the same.

‘‘Makueni  stands head and shoulders above other counties in terms of understanding the social, economic and political consequences of mental health and if the county has done it others can do it,’’ added the chair of the taskforce.

He  appealed to the Council of Governors (COG) to champion for mental health and ensure that counties set aside resources for the sector.

‘‘Makueni  with limited resources has been able to transform mental health. It is possible to have impact and influence with the current budget, however we need more,’’ added Dr. Njenga.

Speaking at the same event, the Makueni Governor, Kivutha Kibwana said mental health is one of the most important health issues that can no longer be ignored.

Kivutha noted that the current manifestation of mental health issues in the country through increased cases of suicide, depression and drug and substance abuse called for a proper approach and diagnosis.

‘‘Mental health issues in the country have been presented in a very dramatic way that we cannot ignore it, we must confront it. The taskforce is very important because people have been suffering in silence,’’ added the governor.

He said there was a need to create awareness and fight stigma that has for long been associated with mental health issues for them to be successfully addressed.

‘‘Mental health illness are diseases like any other, there is nothing to be ashamed of and we should not hide them. The more we talk about them, the more we remove the stigma and address the problem,’’ noted Kivutha.

‘‘The governor also called for proper regulation of the counselling profession in the country to ward off quacks.

‘‘There is need to rein in quacks in the profession because lay counsellors can do more harm than good. Alternatively they can work in collaboration with the professionals or be helped to gain more knowledge,’’ he said.

Kivutha said laws and policies on mental health should be strengthened and implemented so that the country prioritizes mental health.

‘‘The laws and regulations should be fully actualized and also create awareness on the need for both the national and county governments to deliberately allocate a budget for mental health,’’ added the governor.

He also called for the establishment of rehabilitation centres that are accessible to ordinary Kenyans.

‘‘Most rehabilitation centres are expensive and out of reach of many Kenyans,’’ noted Kivutha.

The governor also added that the Universal Health Care (UHC) programme should cover mental health issues to help relieve the burden.

‘‘In the Makueni counseling services are free and this should cut across the board, including the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) and other insurance companies,’’ he said.

The  Director Africa Mental Health Foundation, Prof. David Ndetei called for development of appropriate screening tools to be done by professionals for early diagnosis of mental health issues.

Professor Ndetei also called for implementation of mental health projects based on scientific evidence.

‘‘Projects that are not evidence based can be counterproductive,’’ he said.

By  Roselyne  Kavoo

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