A report by World Health Organization (WHO) 2014 ranked Kenya at position four in Africa and ninth globally in the highest number of people suffering from depression.
Since then, cases of mental disorder have continued to rapidly rise in the country with government statistics indicating that at least 1 in every 4 Kenyans suffer from a mental illness at one point in their lives.
It is estimated that 20-25 per cent of outpatients seeking primary healthcare display symptoms of mental illness at any given time.
In recent times, cases of suicide and murdering of loved ones are being witnessed in the country with Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) reports revealing that at least 483 people committing suicide in the last three months.
Even though not all of these cases are caused by depression and other mental related disorders, a good number have been confirmed to result from this.
Similarly, many people including prominent personalities and social media influencers have come out to share their stories of how they have battled with mental health challenges over the past one year.
For instance, after the death of Churchill show comedian Njenga Mswahili, popular comedian Eric Omondi narrated during an interview on a local radio station that the deceased had confided in him that he was depressed.
Omondi said that public figures with no steady income had higher chances of sinking into depression because they had nowhere to seek help due to their celebrity lifestyle.
In Kisii County, records show an increase in mental health challenges in the last five years, with the county recording at least 60 cases of suicides in six months.
Some of the methods used by the victims to commit suicide including hanging, poisoning by pesticides, murder and burning to death.
According to mental health professionals in Kisii County, the causes of suicide include childhood traumas, physical abuse from friends and family, breakup of relationships, financial difficulties, alcohol and substance abuse, bipolar and parental laxity in disciplining children.
Due to rampant cases of suicide in Kisii, a community-based organization (CBO) has come out to address mental health in the region through provision of medication, psycho and occupational therapies using a multi-sectoral approach.
Kivulini Healthy Minds was established in 2018 by a team of mental health experts including doctors, counsellors, and psychiatrists, psychologists with a vision to provide better health and wellbeing for all, now and for the future generation.
The CBO has been creating awareness on mental health among various stakeholders such as boda boda riders, police officers, caregivers, healthcare workers and community members.
Rodgers Omuya, a psychiatrist and Chairperson of Kivulini, says the message about mental health has not been amplified enough and for this reason, Kisii residents have continued to associate the condition with witchcraft.
In addition, the organization has been targeting these stakeholders because they realized that persons who are mentally ill are often mistreated and stigmatized by individuals who ought to help them.
“As we talk to the police about their status and how to prevent suicide, we also teach them how to deal with someone who has attempted suicide, that once the person is arrested, they should be taken to a health facility and not a police cell where they can use any other means to end their lives,” he says.
The Chairperson notes that caregivers, family members and the local community can play a critical role of preventing suicides by identifying any slight change in behaviour for action as well as reintegrating mentally-ill persons into the community.
“Usually before we discharge a person with mental illness back to the community, we engage the family members on family support and socio-support to ensure they are not condemned or ridiculed over their actions as this would only worsen their condition,” Omuya explains.
He says they are planning to include the local administration, churches, schools and vernacular radio stations to increase awareness on matters of mental health.
Omuya notes that the local administration in the region have been key in identifying people with mental illness in the community, especially during this period of covid-19 where community barazas are prohibited.
Counseling Psychologist at Kisii Teaching and Referral Hospital, Ruth Mogaka says it is important for all departments in private and public sectors to identify mental health issues among staff for action.
“There is a growing need for departments to avail psychiatric management services and encourage communication among members to identify problems that staff are facing,” says Mogaka.
She adds that most individuals who have killed themselves did not get an opportunity to share their problems with others.
Omuya, however, decries the cost of mental health treatment, saying that despite the availability of second-generation drugs that are more effective and have less side-effects, the drugs are expensive and cannot be accessed at public health facilities.
As such, he implores the government to avail second-generation antipsychotics in government facilities and also regulate the prices of the drugs to ease treatment for mentally-ill patients.
Omuya says the organization’s long-term goal is to establish a stand-alone mental health facility within Kisii where social workers can provide treatment, research on more causes of increased mental illnesses and teach community members on accepting people with mental health disorders.
By Mercy Osongo