The World Health Organization report of (2014) indicated that Kenya was ranked fourth in Africa with an estimated of 1.9 million people having a mental condition.
According to the Kenya Mental Health Policy of (2015-2030), depression was found to be the most frequently diagnosed mental illness and mental disorder among Kenyans.
A task force on mental health by the Kenyan government in December 2019, revealed that at least 25 per cent of all outpatients and 40 per cent of all inpatients have suffered from a mental illness.
Climate change was identified as a major contributing factor to mental illness by the Kenya Mental Health Policy (2015-2030) report, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Extreme events such as floods, droughts, and landslides happen faster without warning, this lengthens the people’s ability to recover from these natural disasters.
Individuals who experience such climatic events and survive them may additionally suffer from higher levels of anxiety and “survivors’ guilt”.
At its worst, the resulting depression can lead to suicide as depressive disorders are found to be responsible for 60 per cent of all suicide cases in Kenya.
Dr. Boniface Chitayi, a consultant psychiatrist with the Ministry of Health and President of the Kenyan Psychiatrist Association says that events leading to loss of property, loved ones and forced migration, tend to cause higher rates of depression and anxiety.
He said that floods that were experienced in the Nyanza Region may have contributed to the increase of mental illness cases among the residents, adding that coping with the sudden change of events is not easy.
“Stressful events can trigger most serious mental illnesses characterized by hallucination and insomnia forcing victims into substance abuse as a way of coping with increased stress,” said Chitayi.
He added that mental health issues are often forgotten amid other life-threatening disasters.
Access to mental health services has been a challenge for most Kenyans who cannot afford to travel over long distances in search of assistance, as only about 22 out of 47 counties offer mental health services. This has led to misdiagnosis of mental health cases due to a lack of mental specialists.
In Migori county alone, youths have been the most hit by Mental Health problem cases with 66 per cent of the total cases reported within the County this year being youths below the age of 35 years old.
As mental issues rise, Kenya needs a mental health budget that is separate from the overall health budget whose percentage reflects the burden of mental health illness in our country.
The current system of financing victims has not dealt with the challenges identified, whose roots go back many generations. For instance, mental disorders which account for at least 13 per cent of all diseases have only been allocated 0.1 per cent of the entire budget of 2021-2022.
This self-evident reality needs to be addressed appropriately by the Kenyan government and therefore the government should look for different financing mechanisms, in adherence with the WHO guidelines, taking into account the burden of the disease caused by mental disorders.
The estimates by WHO shows that for every shilling invested in mental health, the return is five shillings.
Dr. Frank Njenga, the Co-Chair of the mental health task force, says that most Kenyans are unable to distinguish between mental health and mental illness. The majority think of mental health as being similar to mental illness.
He added that Kenyans also do not have sufficient information on the signs and symptoms of mental illness, and the accompanying change in individual behaviours is interpreted incorrectly.
At the same time, counties are not fully sensitized about mental health and its related risks.
However, if the Kenya Mental Health Action Plan 2021- 2025 is implemented, it will provide a framework for both the country and county mental health.