Mental Health

This article addresses mental health in general. Having a common language and understanding will help people, hopefully, talk about mental and get help when needed.

According to W.H.O mental health is the level of psychological wellbeing of an individual. Psychological wellbeing here involves the quality of thoughts, emotions, behaviours and social aspects of an individual. Good mental health is when one is aware and utilizes his/her ability to deal with normal day to day life challenges whether at school or at work and is productive in what he/she finds fulfilling in life.

There is no health without mental health. WHO appreciates that mental health influences a variety of outcomes for an individual all the way to a nation. Healthier lifestyles, better physical health, fewer limitations in daily living, higher education, greater productivity in academics, employment and earnings, better relationships with others, improved recovery from illness and improved quality of life are all influenced by positive mental health.

In the past ten years, Kenya has experienced a sharp increase in reported cases of drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, homicide and violence at the household level. These cases can be connected to the impact of mental illness suffered by many who do not receive timely and adequate mental health services. Available official statistics show that 1 in every 4 Kenyans, about 60% of outpatients seeking primary healthcare services and approximately 40% of in-patients in health facilities either suffer from some form of mental illness or present with symptoms of mental illness. Other statistics suggest that on the overall 25% of all people suffer from mental illness during their lifetime.In low and medium income countries such as Kenya, only 1 out of 5 people with mental illness receive mental healthcare services.

Despite this high prevalence, mental health is by far the most stigmatised problem in society and this explains why for far too long it has received complete silence. The stigma largely originates in our African culture where mental illness was and to some degree still remains a taboo topic. This culture of silence makes people afflicted with mental illness and their families to fear coming out and confide in others and get the much needed care. Some have faced discrimination, neglect, abandonment, ill treatment, abuse, violence, and imprisonment. The good news is that Kenya is responding well by acknowledging the seriousness of the problem and developing appropriate strategies. The Kenya health policy 2014-2030, Kenya mental health policy 2015-2030 in line with vision 2030 and the current taskforce on mental health are all indications that the government is taking steps towards addressing the challenges in mental health. However, mental health challenges cannot be confined to government policies alone, families, schools, workplaces and communities need to come out and break the cycle of silence surrounding mental health.

When someone is suffering from a heart problem or diabetes people will often respond by seeking appropriate medical care, follow up on treatment prescribed by the doctors, family will support, employers will grant sick leave, friends will visit the patient at home or in hospital and bring flowers and get well soon cards or inquire on the progress of the patient and normal duties may be temporarily taken up by others as one recuperates. However, the same cannot be confidently said of mental illness such as depression or anxiety, one may be blamed, isolated, accused of pretence or get punished for having mental illness. The differences in attitude, care and support between physical illness and mental illness make clear the gaps that must be filled with attitude change and correct awareness so that stigma and discrimination are reduced.

We as a society have a long way to go to improve our understanding and management of mental health. The good news is there is more need than ever to know more and find ways to support care and treat mental illness. Young people are speaking out in many platforms especially social media, the courage to share their struggles is inspiring and helping others to begin to re-examine our held beliefs and change our approach. Mental illness can affect anyone and just as we have been able to overcome stigma in Aids and other STIs the same can be done with mental illness.

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The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace professional advice.

By Letoo James , Feb 27, 2020

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