Kenya: Govt Through National Youth Council Calls on Youths to Speak Up on Mental Health Issues

22 February 2021

Nairobi — The Government is now calling on Kenyans and especially youths with mental health issues to speak up and seek help without fear of stigmatization.

National Youth Council (NYC) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Roy Sasaka said there is need to create more awareness on mental health issues so as to have more people speak out.

"We recognize that everyone is facing additional challenges dealing with COVID-19. There is no population that is immune to this. That is why we are creating awareness of Mental Health in the country. People are crying out for help navigating the uncharted waters of life in a pandemic especially those gripped by anxiety and depression," he said.

Capital FM runs an online platform known as Bonga that encourages people suffering from mental health challenges to speak out.

As the world marked World Suicide Prevention Day in September 11 last year, the government announced plans to set up a tele-counseling and tele-pyschiatry center at the Mathare Hospital to assist Kenyans with mental health issues.

Health Chief Administrative Secretary Rashid Aman said the centre will have a free toll number which will be operational day and night to assist even those who have been mentally affected by COVID-19 pandemic.

"This 24/7 facility will enable the adequate utilization of the scarce human resource for mental and psychosocial support. The callers will receive both emergency and non-emergency support. The hotline will be operational and continue to be operational post-COVID-19 pandemic to address all mental challenges that we face as a nation," said Aman.

He further announced that the government had already developed a National Suicide Prevention Strategy Program 2021-2026, highlighting measures that need to be taken to prevent suicide in Kenya, as cases increased by 58 percent between 2008 -2017.

"The increased reported cases of suicide in Kenya show the dire need to prevent suicide in Kenya. The World Population Review ranks Kenya at position 114 out of 175 countries with the highest cases of suicide. In addition, Kenya's suicide rate is at 6.5 suicides per 100,000 people," Aman said.

Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) at the Ministry of ICT Nadia Abdala said people need to accept that mental health is a disease like other diseases.

She called on Kenyans to take advantage of the government initiatives which are addressing the menace, saying more lives will be saved if more people share what they are going through so as to get help.

"It is estimated that only 10-15 percent of young people with Mental Health problems receive help from existing Mental Health services according to World Health Organization survey of 2005. Young people often underestimate the need for outside help and attempt to deal with their problems on their own. Therefore, young people must be empowered through the provision of information on Mental Health problems and opportunities for support and treatment," she said.

They spoke at the Two Rivers Mall Monday, during the launch of Mental Health Awareness Week by the National Youth Council (NYC) that seeks to sensitize youths on mental challenges and how they can be assisted.

In partnership with UNODC, UNICEF, Safaricom, Centum Investments, East African Breweries Limited, Spread Truth Africa, Compassion International, among other partners, NYC will be holding a Mental Health Wellness Week from 22nd to 26th February 2021 at Two Rivers Mall, to build Mental Health Resilience among the Youth through Sports and Culture, to generate realistic and impactful solutions to the diverse socio-economic challenges facing the youth.

Some of the challenges that will be addressed include unemployment anxiety, alcohol and drug abuse, anger, depression, financial stress, Gender Based Violence, self-harm, among others.

National Youth Council is a State Corporate in the Ministry of ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs, which came into being through the enactment of the NYC Act (2009) as the official voice of the Youth.

Its mandate is to harness and advocate for, the youth voice to inform government policy and legislations and to regulate and coordinate Youth activities and initiatives, for youth empowerment, inclusion and participation in all spheres of life.

On July 20 last year, the task-force on Mental Health called on the government to declare Mental Health a national disaster in the country.

The Taskforce Chairperson Dr Frank Njenga said mental health issues are deep-rooted and it is high it is given the attention it deserves.

The task force further recommended that an independent mental health commission be formed to monitor people's happiness levels and provide a report annually.

"We are recommending an equally decisive declaration by our government that recognizes that too many people are dying either by suicide or by the root of gender-based violence and we suggest that such a move will and can save lives," Njenga said.

The Njenga-led taskforce also recommended that mental health services be well funded by the government in order to encourage many people to open up and share their problems without fear of how much it will cost them to treat the disorders.

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe has said time and again that mental health issues have increased since March when coronavirus was confirmed in the country.

President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered the formation of the task-force last year in June amid rising depression and mental sickness which led to high cases of murder and suicide.

The task force was mandated to assess Kenya's mental health systems including the legal, policy and administrative environment to identify areas that may benefit from reform, for optimal delivery.

Depression is the most common mental illness worldwide.

The World Health Organization's 2014 report ranked Kenya at position four in Africa with 1.9 million people who have the condition.

According to the Kenya Mental Health Policy (2015-2030), 20-25 per cent of outpatients seeking primary healthcare presented symptoms of mental illness.

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