By Sophy Nyongesa
To attain a healthy nation, all aspects of health particularly mental health and well-being are key. Observed on 10th October, World Mental Health day aims to raise awareness on mental health and mobilize efforts in support of better mental health. The theme for this year “Mental Health in an Unequal World” aims to enable everyone to take actions to reduce inequalities and encourage mental health and other health practitioners to share what they know about mental health inequality and practical ideas to tackle it.
According to the World Federation for Mental Health, access to mental health services remains unequal, with between 75% to 95% of people with mental disorders in low and middle income countries unable to access mental health services at all. Moreover, Lack of investment in mental health disproportionate to the overall health budget contributes to the mental health treatment gap.
In Kenya, mental health is a great concern especially amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. World Health Organization places Kenya 4th in the highest number of depressed people in Africa and 9th globally. 1.9 million people in the country are depressed. Moreover, in 2021 alone, Kenya has reported 411 suicide cases between March and June as compared to 196 suicide cases in the whole year of 2019; which is an alarming number.
Although a health concern, many people with mental illness do not receive the treatment that they are entitled to and deserve and together with their families and caregivers continue to experience stigma and discrimination. The stigma and discrimination experienced by people who experience mental health issues not only affects that persons physical and mental health, stigma also affects their educational opportunities, current and future earning and job prospects, and also affects their families and loved ones psychologically and emotionally.
There are many different mental disorders with several presentations; generally characterized by a combination of abnormal thoughts, perceptions, emotions, behavior and relationship with others. Mental disorders include; depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other psychoses, dementia, and developmental disorders including autism. Learning about developing symptoms or early warning signs and taking action can reduce the severity of an illness or prevent a major mental illness altogether.
Several inequalities have been highlighted over the years such as lack of respect to human life including people living with mental health disorders. The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the effects of inequality on health outcomes. The pandemic has and will continue to affect people of all ages, in many ways as a result of infections and illnesses, economic disenfranchisement, job losses and continued job insecurity.
It is the perfect time now more than ever before, to utilize the crisis as an opportunity to invest in policies and institutions that can turn the tide on inequality. Additionally, more has to be done by all stakeholders to ensure access to mental health services for all as well as investment in primary healthcare. Strong primary healthcare is needed to ensure early detection, screening and treatment of people at the community level, as well as provide information and advice to communities to prevent and manage diseases including mental health illnesses. Committing spending to primary healthcare not only saves but helps countries to develop.
We all have a role to play to on this International Mental Health day to address the glaring disparities and gaps and ensure that people with lived experience of mental health are fully integrated to access quality affordable and comprehensive mental health care.