The Mental health taskforce appointed by the Health CS Sicily Kariuki on 11th December 2019, started listening to public views in Meru County Monday, on how mental illnesses can be dealt with in the country.
The taskforce led by Raymond Ouma and Mellanie Blake received memoranda from groups and individuals in the exercise that took place at Kamunde Hall in Meru Town.
The participants expressed the need of strengthening of the mental health sector saying the number of people having mental illnesses was on the increase.
The taskforce was told that there were few facilities to handle the number of mental and psychiatric conditions, thus leading some people into social evils and suicides.
In their submission to the taskforce, Meru County Health department decried the increased cases of mental health in the county, attributing them to drugs and substance abuse and the breakdown of the moral social fabric.
In the memorandum read by Dr. Andrea Mwikamba, the taskforce heard that a total of 7,000 patients with mental illness are treated annually in the county, with the cases having surpassed capacity at the Meru Level Five Hospital that has a psychiatric unit with only 17 beds.
Mwikamba who is a psychiatrist at the hospital said the government should consider pumping more resources for the mental units citing that there is no specific kitty for the section.
He also said that mental units ought to be made available at the lowest level to address the many cases and cut down the on the cost burden being experienced by the victims and their family members.
“There is need to establish a rehabilitation center and launch public education on the dangers of substance abuse that has contributed immensely to the upsurge of suicide cases,” stated the psychiatrist in the submission.
Participants decried the high cost of treating mental illnesses, while calling on the government to consider subsidizing or waiving some of the costs.
The taskforce was also informed that majority of the community health volunteers need psychiatric training since they form the largest part of workers that interact with mental illness victims.
“There are 66 psychiatric experts in Meru County but only three practice due to lack of recognition in the scheme of service. The Public Service Commission should think of how they can motivate the health workers that have the mental health expertise so that they can help in attending to the mental health cases,” said Mwikamba.
He added that there is urgent need for full integration of mental health education in all levels of education in a move to create awareness on the challenge that seems to have led to unrests and violence at both the family and school levels.
The taskforce for will visit 10 counties including Nyeri, Nakuru, Garissa, Kisumu, Mombasa, Eldoret, Makueni, Kakamega and Nairobi to solicit for views from Kenyans.
By Richard Muhambe