There is need for greater national focus on mental illnesses by stakeholders in the health sector in Kenya.
Whereas mental disorders can be treated, too many individuals are left to deal with tough life circumstances like drug and alcohol addiction, confinement or abandonment, said First Lady Margaret Kenyatta.
She was speaking during celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of Chiromo Hospital Group and the official opening of Chiromo Bustani Level 5 Hospital in Nairobi.
The First Lady noted that the recent escalation in the numbers of Kenyans affected by mental illnesses, especially during the pandemic, makes the case for urgent attention by the stakeholders.
As part of the renewed approach, she advised stakeholders to aim at providing greater access to quality mental health treatment, appropriate medical and psychosocial support.
She hailed Chiromo Hospital Group for their sustained commitment to mental health in Kenya, saying the experience earned should be harnessed to boost mental healthcare systems.
“We can now use this knowledge to implement better policies, better treatment modalities and scale up interventions that will support a reliable mental care system,” she said.
She also noted that mental health was a growing global and national concern, noting that the rising number of cases were ravaging communities across the country.
“We all know of, or have heard of, someone who has battled with mental illness.”
Despite the challenges faced in the provision of mental healthcare in the country, the First Lady applauded efforts being made by government and partners to ensure the services are expanded, and called for more awareness creation.
“We have made progress in learning about mental diseases in the last few years, so that we understand them more scientifically. We need to be aware of the cost of untreated mental illness; the lost school days, lost work days, dropout, marital distress, and also lost opportunity cost—the economic effects of individuals who are not functioning at full capacity,” she advised.
Further, the First Lady called for public awareness, saying that it could change the negative perceptions around mental illnesses citing her experience in maternal and child health advocacy through Beyond Zero Initiative.
“One of the ways we can change the misguided perceptions is through more public awareness. I know heightened advocacy and awareness works through my own work in Beyond Zero highlighting maternal and child health,” she said.
Health CAS Mercy Mwangangi said mental illnesses is a major challenge and welcomed the private sector’s support to Government efforts in expanding mental healthcare in the country.
In Kenya, it is estimated that one in every 10 people suffer from a common mental disorder.
Depression and anxiety disorders are the leading mental illnesses diagnosed in Kenya followed by substance use disorders.
Alcohol abuse among 18 to 29 year olds provides the largest burden of substance use related illnesses in Kenya.