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Surging mental health disorders raise alarm

Grim mental health statistics continue to stalk Taita Taveta County’s healthcare landscape, according to a survey released this week by a multi-sectoral task force established during COVID-19 to address the high prevalence of depression and other psychosocial conditions.

Data released by the taskforce show that mental health disorders increased from 2, 152 cases in 2021 to 3,174 cases in 2022; a rising trend that healthcare stakeholders say should be arrested before it turns into a pandemic.

“We cannot sit pretty while a silent pandemic in the making is brewing in our communities and threatens the very foundations of our healthcare systems,” warns Eva Mwandembo, the County mental health, and GBV coordinator.

Rebecca Macharia, a psychologist at Mwatate Sub-County Hospital, says that the numbers were merely the tip of an iceberg as they represented reported cases while thousands more went unreported.

She attributes the depressed reporting to the social and cultural connotations about mental health, a precedent that has prevented patients and their relatives from seeking medical help.

“Communities here believe mental health disorders are caused by sorcery. Therefore, patients and their families shy away from visiting mental health facilities for help,” says Ms. Macharia.

While there are concerted efforts both from the national and county governments to categorize mental health disorders as mainstream medical conditions, Ms. Macharia admits that there is a lot of ground to be covered in terms of financial support, awareness, and recruiting experienced human resources.

Similar calls for the integration of mental health care with general health services were made by Carol Ngari, USAID Stawisha Pwani Technical officer for HIV testing services, who said that such an approach would create an effective and efficient strategy in caring for and supporting patients.

At the national level, the government is guided by the Kenya Mental Health Action Plan (2021-2025), a Ministry of Health (MoH) blueprint on interventions for securing mental health systems reforms in the country.

Currently, MoH data indicates that one in every four people seeking health services in the country has a mental health condition. Depression has been marked as the most prevalent due to alcohol and substance abuse in the backdrop of tough economic times precipitated by COVID-19 and the ongoing harsh drought in most parts of Kenya.

While mental health does not enjoy an exclusive budget allocation from the exchequer, the State established a Mental Health Taskforce in 2020 and continues implementing a litany of reforms to improve prevention, treatment, and care for people with mental health problems.

By Arnold Linga Masila

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