Mental health has always been a sensitive topic. There is a lot of stigma associated with it mostly due to misunderstanding the topic. In our country Kenya, we are very cultural and still maintain many of the past beliefs especially on the matter of mental health. Many tend to associate what they do not understand to curses and witchcraft hence the belief that those with mental issues were deemed to be under spells or cursed in the past and sadly enough, some people still believe this to be true.
There are many different mental disorders, with different presentations. They are generally characterized by a combination of abnormal thoughts, perceptions, emotions, behavior, and relationships with others.
Mental disorders include depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other psychoses, dementia, and developmental disorders including autism. There are effective strategies for preventing mental disorders such as depression. There are also effective treatments for mental disorders and ways to alleviate the suffering caused by them. Access to health care and social services capable of providing treatment and social support is key. The burden of mental disorders continues to grow with significant impacts on health and major social, human rights and economic consequences in all countries of the world.
Last week I attended a forum on mental disordered a task force with aims of assessing the prevailing mental health status in Kenya, the social determinants and other factors contributing to the adverse health; assess the mental health systems including the legal and policy framework and report on the recommendations, to outline legal, policy and administrative reform proposals aimed at transforming mental health systems for improved mental health and quality of life. This is a good sign of the government recognizing that this is an area of concern on how to address the issues that are already there and put preventive measures in place.
A lot of issues were raised by the participants on the state of mental disorders and challenges faced in both mental institutions, organizations, and individuals with very effective recommendations if implemented. There’s a mother who shared on her struggles since his son who was okay, a very brilliant boy who started displaying symptoms of mental health at age 13. She says it was difficult in the beginning to know exactly what was wrong because the episodes were on and off with many people accusing the boy of substance abuse. The boy confused; he would run away oftentimes to avoid being judged. The situation grew worse as he got older to a point where he would forget his identity; for example, that he is a student, his friends or what he was doing at times. Family and friends started distancing themselves from them, at the mother’s business, her employees would quit after meeting the boy saying that he is cursed and they are afraid of being affected. All this affected the mother and son adversely, sometimes the son would have life-threatening situations and the mother worried, with no training or information on how to handle such a situation and worse still no hotline to contact for help. This is a single case of millions of people who are suffering such effects or worse.
Some of the many recommendations mentioned were;
1. Promotion of sensitization efforts on mental issues to help address issues of stigma in the area, to make people aware of the policies and support framework for the affected and improve acceptance in the society and community at large.
2. Set up proper coaching and training that is targeted to certain groups, for example, the youth whose numbers are fast-growing and the rate of mental issues from anxiety to ADHD are also on the rise. This will help with early detection, create a platform for the affected to turn to, better equip the affected with ways to suppress the effects and eventually get better.
3. Promote material to help create new empowering beliefs to children at a young age because we form our beliefs from age 1 -14 years, if children can be exposed to the right content, not the exported material that conflicts with the cultural and societal beliefs, the children can better develop their minds, strengthen their understanding of themselves and the world hence becoming strong, stable individuals in their futures reducing the rate of mental issues tremendously. – Adopting what works for us; e.g. Kenya, and counties. Culturally oriented solutions that are not exported but what works for locals.
4. Halfway houses and community homes to expand the scope of service and solve stigma with mental hospitals plus solve the overcrowding problem and high rate of relapses. – Safety in treatment- Need for professionals in the space not self-proclaimed specialists with minimal professionalism.
5. Early detection including screening especially from early ages such as primary school level to avoid an outbreak in later years.
6. Access to treatment – integration of institutions. Shared data in the space following privacy terms to help a patient get progressive treatment regardless of location within the country.
7. Deal with suppliers of drugs because they contribute a lot to substance abuse e.g. weed distributors especially to the young people.
8. Address stigmatization of the sector grouping minor mental issues as extremes e.g. Calling anyone and everyone with mental issues ‘wazimu’ which is a grouping of extreme crazy. This worsens the situation and its effects severe. Also, people not knowing where to go to help promote the growth of mental issues.
9. Teach more on mind, body, spirit, and soul through consultants and other professionals – Create awareness on the powers of the mind and its potential to shape one’s life outcomes and create stability. Also, teach on the importance of family and that the type of family structure contributes greatly to mental health
Mental issues are a reality, by suppressing the existence in this day and age is useless. We should accept and embrace those with any mental issues, promote circulation of enough relevant information on the same such as where to turn to, how to improve the mind, body, and spirit, how to deal with new rising issues such as unemployment among the youth that contribute greatly to mental issues, how to deal with cultural and society pressures from demanding lifestyles and expectations among many other triggers. Setting up proper institutions to cater to mental issues and training enough personnel to handle the issues would be key to solving the many challenges that are experienced in the mental issues space. I will later write a well-detailed report on the same, but for now; let us all be our brother’s keeper, be kind, willing to serve and give love to all. We are stronger together and there’s magic in giving and receiving love and light.