The Ministry of Health has unveiled National Guidelines on Workplace Mental Wellness as it seeks to fulfil the constitutional mandate, which stipulates the highest standard of health as a right for all Kenyans.
Health Cabinet Secretary (CS) Susan Nakhumicha said that the government recognises mental health as a serious public health and development concern and has recently implemented several reforms aimed at strengthening the country’s mental health system, as envisaged in the Universal Health Coverage Policy (UHC 2020–2030).
“The Ministry developed the Kenya Mental Health Policy 2015-2030, which is evidence-based and aligned with national and international standards,” said Nakhumicha.
In a speech read on her behalf by Acting Director General of Health Dr. Patrick Amoth on Thursday at the Mathari Teaching and Referral Hospital during the launch, Nakhumicha said that Kenya is among the few countries in the region with a Mental Health Action Plan (2021-2025).
She explained that the action plan provided a framework for the implementation of the Mental Health Policy and Taskforce on Mental Health Report, adding that this aligns with the bottom-up economic transformative agenda of the government as well as the Sustainable Development Goals.
“Mental health challenges significantly affect the productivity and performance of the working population. The average adult spends an average of 35 hours per week at work, which adds up to 1,795 hours per year and over 84,365 hours in a lifetime,” explained the CS.
She highlighted that evidence indicates that an estimated 15% of working population lives with at least one mental health condition.
“In the Kenyan context, about 24.9 million people are working, which translates to approximately 3.7 million Kenyans living with a mental health condition. The most common mental health conditions in Kenya include anxiety, depression, substance use disorder, schizophrenia, and bipolar mood disorder,” said Nakhumicha.
The CS noted that work is a social determinant of mental health. “Meaningful work is protective for mental health, contributing to a sense of accomplishment, financial independence, confidence, recovery, and inclusion of persons living with mental health conditions. However, a harmful or negative work environment can significantly contribute to physical and mental health problems, harmful use of alcohol and substances and exacerbate existing mental illnesses,” she said.
The CS said that according to the Kenya Mental Health Investment Case 2021, the estimated economic burden on account of mental health conditions on the Kenyan economy was Sh62.2 billion (US$571.8 million), an equivalent loss of 0.6% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2020.
“About 91% of this annual cost was attributed to premature mortality, absenteeism and presenteeism while health care expenditure accounted for only 9%. This study also found interventions for depression, anxiety and alcohol use disorder have significant return on investment over 10 to 20 years. This clearly demonstrates that it is prudent to invest in mental health at the workplaces as the benefits transcend beyond health to increased productivity and socioeconomic development,” said Nakhumicha.
She explained that it is with this recognition of the role of workplaces in shaping the mental health of the population that the Ministry of Health has developed the Workplace Mental Wellness Guidelines. The aim of these guidelines is to promote mental wellness at the workplaces through three main strategic interventions: promotion, prevention, care and support.
“In these guidelines, we lay emphasis on the need for everyone to be included. There is a role for all members of the organization which include the individuals, the managers, and supervisors, as well as at the highest level of organisational leadership,” she said.
The CS highlighted that at individual level, employees will be required to prioritize their own mental wellness through engaging in self-care, developing coping skills, having a social support system and seeking mental health care when needed.
“The managers and supervisors’ role includes creating supportive working environment that recognises abilities and matches tasks with abilities, and identifying those who are at risk and linking them with necessary support. The organization leadership has the duty to provide a conducive work environment by setting up wellness programmes and providing the required resources,” said Nakhumicha.
She emphasized that these guidelines are applicable for all workplaces in Kenya including private, public, formal and informal contexts.
By Joseph Ng’ang’a