The World Health Day accords us an opportunity to examine the state of the sector, including reviewing and identifying gaps, scaling up successful interventions, and developing new strategies to ensure improved access to quality, affordable, and appropriate mental health care services for all. It also provides an opportunity to create dialogue spaces that can secure duty bearer commitment and improved investment in the sector. This year’s theme on Make Mental Health and Well-being for all a Global Priority calls for a global, concerted efforts to strengthen mental health care interventions that are responsive to all.
The connection between sustainable development and wellness is now becoming more understood as discussions on mental health issues acquire more traction and are brought to the forefront. One in four people in Kenya who seek medical attention, according to factual data from the World Health Organization (WHO), have a mental health disorder. This necessitates an immediate and well-coordinated multifaceted strategy to solving it.
Stress levels in society have risen because of the world’s many problems, including war, rising inequality, Gender Based Violence (GBV), the effects of COVID-19, Climate Change, and malnutrition and hunger. Citizens’ overall well-being should now be prioritized through investment. Evidence also suggests that social and economic factors affect women and girls more severely than men, making them more vulnerable and susceptible to mental health illnesses. These are girls and women who have undergone GBV and/or harmful cultural practices and are living in conflict situations. Thus, the passage of the Mental Health Amendment Bill in June 2022 came as a relief to Kenyans and demonstrated that the government finally understands the importance of the problem.
Even with such significant advancement, infrastructure, operationalization, institutionalization, finance, and awareness shortages still exist. Individuals and their families are discouraged from getting treatment because of the stigma, taboo, and misunderstanding surrounding issues about mental health. There is also a lack of understanding of the nature of mental diseases, with some people attributing them to witchcraft and curses. Additionally, there is a meager or nonexistent national and local budget for mental health services. Addressing availability and access to high-quality mental health care becomes extremely lacking in the absence of significant financing. An audit by the Auditor General in 2017 indicates that currently 22 out of the 47 Counties in Kenya do not have a psychiatric unit. The lack of public infrastructure and supportive services to improve access to comprehensive services has also made the services unaffordable and out of reach for many.
An area that needs urgent reforms is the human rights implications of accessing services. Specifically, the punitive approach currently applied to censure individuals who attempt to self-harm must be addressed and the issue decriminalized. Forceful commitment to sanatoriums and coercive interventions for non-voluntary commitment should be a thing of the past, as individuals need to be treated with dignity. As we laud the passing of the bill, the Government now needs to set guidelines and regulations for the operationalization of the act.
At Uraia Trust, we recognize the sanctity of life and the significance of the well-being of an individual to ensure personal growth and the ability to live a productive life. We acknowledge that providing adequate mental health treatment is essential to achieving sustainable growth. We will advocate for increased financial investments through budget allocation at the national and county levels along with our implementation partners. Additionally, we shall lobby for development of public infrastructure and supportive services to ensure citizens are able to access affordable, appropriate, and quality mental health care services. To guarantee that the most vulnerable members of society have access to high-quality, affordable, and useful mental health care, a gender perspective on mental health concerns must be mainstreamed. Our goal at Uraia Trust is to promote and safeguard the wellbeing of all our stakeholders, including our personnel. As a result, we continually make investments in wellbeing through teambuilding and frequent debriefings to improve their coping skills. We also make sure that our personnel may respectfully obtain mental health treatments when necessary.
We should adopt, ingrain, and embody the Utu culture as Kenyans who have or may encounter people with diverse mental health challenges since it is based on compassion and encourages treating everyone with respect and dignity.