Nairobi — President Uhuru Kenyatta on Thursday directed the Ministry of Health to establish a task force on the status of mental health in country.
According to the Head of State, the task force is expected to come up with new policies needed to address the growing concerns about mental health among Kenyans.
He stated that the findings of the task force which will be discussed in Cabinet within 90 days will assist the government in the allocation of resources to mental health.
The Cabinet further approved the establishment of Mathari National Teaching and Referral Hospital and the designation of Gilgil Hospital as a satellite mental health facility of Mathari.
The President's directive came as the Kenya Annual Mental Health conference got underway on Thursday at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC)
"Mental health is a key component of health which is defined by the World Health Organization as a state of physical, mental and social well-being and not mere absence of infirmity," said Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Susan Mochache, who officiated the conference.
Stakeholders present called for strategic positioning of mental health in the country's agenda and mobilization of resources to address these disparities.
"The country has witnessed an unprecedented rate of suicide death and increasing burden due substance use disorders and related complications, even among children and adolescents are also of concern," said the Director of Mental Health Simon Njuguna.
Njuguna further advised the society to avoid stigmatizing or ostracizing those afflicted by mental illnesses arguing that depression and other mental illnesses do not discriminate and can afflict anyone despite their status in society.
"Some doctors, engineers, teachers and lawyers are among some of the professionals who are currently afflicted by mental illnesses and we therefore need to ensure they access treatment and care and society, therefore needs to change its attitude against those who are afflicted by empathizing with them," Njuguna noted.
About 4.7 million people are suffering from depression and other forms of mental illnesses in Kenya which translates to one in every four persons, experts warn.
The World Health Organization (WHO) in a report titled "Young people and mental health in a changing world" released during last year's World Mental Health Day held on October 10 warned that half of mental illness begins by the age of 14, but most cases go undetected.
In terms of burden of the disease among adolescents, depression is the third leading cause while suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15--29-year old.
According to WHO, more than 350 million people suffer from depression globally with 20 million people attempting to commit suicide annually. Some one million succeed in their bid, which translates to 3,000 deaths every day.
This situation is compounded by the pervasive culture of denial, silence and stigma that surrounds mental health.
A majority in the society erroneously ascribe mental illness to curses, evil spirits, or witchcraft. Persons with mental illnesses are often ostracized, stereotyped, feared or shunned by the society.
These negative attitudes have prevented many from seeking timely care, and ultimately hindered them from realizing their dreams and achieving their full potential.
Experts say there are 300 different types of mental illness and there is need to demystify the existing myths on the diseases to enable those suffering from the diseases to seek treatment.
To address these challenges, the government has adopted the Quality Rights Mental Health initiative, launched on Wednesday, aimed at transforming mental health and promoting human rights for people with mental disorders.
The initiative is an undertaking by the government to transform services in the country to be in line with the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD).
"For a long time, people living with mental disorders have suffered historical injustices and it's high time the society recognizes their rights," stated Nominated Senator Sylvia Kasanga.
"The fastest way we can get this initiative out and about is through teaches and schools, because we know the issues surrounding mental health issues on the adolescents and the youth."
Njuguna noted that public awareness on Quality Rights mental health initiative will also be conducted to change the narrative, attitudes and practices and assessment and reports on the quality of care and observance of human rights in the national referral hospitals, 15 mental health units, 29 mental health outpatient clinics in Kenya and social care and community based mental health services.
The Quality Rights mental initiative will be instrumental in building capacity among mental health professionals and other health workers, people with lived experience, families, careers and other supporters, NGOs and organizations of people with disabilities on how to implement a human rights and recovery approach in the mental health and social care fields in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
In addition, the health ministry will develop long term strategies on sustainable and effective Quality Rights implementation in Kenya, establish and train a mixed stakeholder's national coordinating committee and assessment committees and monitor and evaluate improvement of mental health services following the Quality Rights e-training and assessments.
"Through the Quality Rights Initiative, people with mental health conditions, psycho-social disabilities and intellectual or cognitive disabilities will experience better health outcomes and respect for their rights in all aspects of their lives," he said.