Kenya expresses concern about mental illness amid COVID-19 pandemic

mental Illness

Kenya’s Ministry of Health on Tuesday expressed concern about the rising cases of mental illness which it said has increased rapidly since the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic.

Mutahi Kagwe, cabinet secretary in the ministry of health, said that since the pandemic broke out in the country, many people have checked in hospitals with mental related cases, such as depression.

“The rising cases, some of which have ended in suicide cases, have been a concern to the government,” Kagwe told journalists in Nairobi.

He said that the government has also witnessed an increase in family and gender-based violence, adding that these psychosocial issues have compounded the problem of the current pandemic.

The official noted that depression and anxiety are the leading mental illnesses diagnosed in Kenya, followed by substance use disorders.

Kagwe said among the different types of substances, alcohol contributes to the largest burden of substance use-related illnesses in the country, adding that alcohol abuse is the most prevalent in the 18 to 29 year age group.

Kagwe noted that related to the high burden of mental illnesses are the rates of suicide witnessed in the country.

According to World Health Organization (WHO), Kenya’s mortality rate due to suicide is ranked 29th worldwide with an estimate of 5.6 per 100,000 persons.

Amid all the challenges, Kagwe revealed that the country has a total of 1,600 bed capacity for mental healthcare, out of which 400 are in private health facilities.

“There are four public health facilities providing treatment and rehabilitation services for substance use disorders and in 14 county hospitals mental health units offering specialized mental healthcare,” he said.

In its findings, the taskforce indicated that Kenya has a high burden of mental illness due to ill health, psychosocial disability and premature mortality with huge gaps in access to care.

The team found out that the majority of populations in Kenya associate mental health and mental illness with negative narratives leading to low focus on the importance and benefits of mental health and well being.

“We are recommending the establishment of a mental health commission and happiness, to advise, coordinate and continuously monitor the status of mental health and report on the annual happiness index,” Frank Njenga, chairman of the taskforce said.

Njenga, who is a psychiatrist, noted that the taskforce also recommended that mental illness be declared a national emergency of epidemic proportions, to prioritize mental health as a priority public health and socioeconomic agenda.

“We have also recommended that mental health be provided with adequate financing in line with international best practice,” he added.

Meanwhile, the ministry of health said that Kenya has so far confirmed 8,250 COVID-19 cases from 193,455 samples which have been tested since March.

So far, 2,504 people have been discharged from various hospitals in the country while 167 patients have died from the disease, according to the ministry of health. Enditem

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