A recent report by a task force on Mental Health in Kenya found that one in every ten police officers in the country is mentally challenged.
The study which was conducted in 2020 by the National Police Service Commission (NPSC) revealed that about 12,000 police officers suffer from mental health, thus the report recommended that mental illness be declared a national emergency.
The NPSC analysis and initial studies indicate that the reasons for which police officers plunge into dire stress levels revolve around human resource issues, including promotion, deployments, transfers, training and financial management.
The report further states that police from hot spot regions suffer more from mental illness due to domestic matters.
In this regard, Migori County was listed among other 36 hot spot counties with several officers suffering from mental breakdown leading to some of them committing some bizarre fatal human incidents
For instance, the aftermath of this disease dogging police men and women was witnessed last year in Migori when an officer shot his partner several times before turning the gun on himself.
In a move to create mental health awareness among the inflicted officers in the area, a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) by the name, Rehab Wheels, has come up with a program called ‘Askari ni binadamu wanahitaji upendo’ to improve mental health of officers.
During the clinic that ran for five days within the County, a number of police officers were brought on board.
The programme was organized and presided over by Dr. Irene Danchumburi of Rehab Wheels in collaboration with the Catholic Medical Mission Board and the Kenya Red Cross Society.
The Main purpose of the event which was held in Migori town was to enhance the mental well-being of the police officers drawn from the eight Sub-Counties of Migori County.
Dr. Danchumburi, the Chief Executive Officer for Rehab Wheels, shared that her personal experience with depression made her realize the importance of mental health counselling programs.
She said, “I lost my job and fell to depression. Overcoming my trauma inspired me to voluntarily offer my services to the police. I want to be the person they can turn to when they are at their lowest ebb.”
She decided to come up with the program ‘Askari ni Binadamu Wanahitaji Upendo’ after observing the mental challenges which are affecting the police officers within the county.
Since she started the program, she has been able to reach a large number of the police officers and a big number of them are turning out for counselling where they open up on the problems facing them economically, socially and health wise
Dr Danchumburi called on the police officers to be more open to one another and to share their problems with their colleagues noting that a problem shared is a problem a half solved.
The phycologist at the same time appealed to the general public to accept the police officers in their midist since they are human beings and they are prone to error.
“The general public must accept the police officers as human beings that they are also prome to making mistakes in their lives,” she stressed.
Police commander incharge of Suna East sub county Mr. Esau Ochorokodi, described the program as being highly beneficial to the police officers.
He explained that the clinic is specifically targeted to officers whose performance had significantly declined.
According to Ochorokodi, many of their officers are working in the environment which are causing mental challenges to them and unless they are trained on how to handle mental problems especially stress, they stare the risk of losing many of them.
“This program has greatly helped police officers in terms of mental wellness. The officers often work in challenging environments and often have no one to confide in. Through this program, they have learned how to take care of their mental well-being,” he stated.
The commander further outlined that the officers were selected based on their work output. Those who have struggled to maintain high work standards were chosen for the program.
However, he stressed that to prevent any feelings of isolation they also included hardworking officers to further elevate their well-being
Benson Onyango, the representative of the Catholic Medical Mission Board, expressed his satisfaction in the program’s execution. He explained that the CMMB is dedicated to upholding human rights and gender equality, as neglecting these issues often leads to mental health problems.
“Our primary goal is to educate the public, including the police, on human rights, gender issues, HIV/AIDS, and mental health in Migori County. CMMB is committed to achieving 100 percent tolerance within society,” he said.
Onyango further emphasized that their focus on the police stemmed from the fact that the mental well-being of officers had been overlooked, saying that the increased stigmatization within the police department regarding issues of AIDS and gender-based violence was worrying.
The officers who benefited from the program described it as a unique opportunity. Jemimah Amoit, a police officer, stressed the need for regular mental assessments within the police force.
She also emphasized the importance of establishing counselling programs throughout the department, urging the state to take action.
“Burnout within the police force has become a significant problem. Without someone to talk to, it can lead to mental imbalance. I am grateful to the organizers for their dedication to the mental well-being of the service personnel.”
Amoit also revealed that the Migori County Police headquarters was the only place in the county where a volunteer mental health specialist was available.
The officers now hope that the Police Service will listen to their pleas and establish counselling services in police stations nationwide.
By Ochuodho Elkana and Obuoyo Michael