By Albert Migowa

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as a state of wellbeing in which an individual realizes their potential or abilities, can cope with the normal stressors of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to contribute to their community. The recommendation of the mental health taskforce in July 2020 indicated that mental illness be declared a national emergency of epidemic proportions. Additionaly, the need to prioritize mental health as a public health and socio-economic agenda was highlighted during the launch of the report on mental health and wellbeing towards happiness and national prosperity.

The report further established that Kenya is experiencing rapid increase in suicides, mental health conditions, substance use, and addictive disorders, a clear indication of social challenges and unmet needs at societal level. It is estimated that 50% of all mental disorders start by the age of 14 years and 75% by the age of 24 years.

One in every ten people suffer from a common mental disorder.

The number increases to one in every four people among patients attending routine outpatient services.~ Mental Health Taskforce

In addition, stigma and discrimination contribute to and perpetuate mental ill health and marginalizes persons with mental health conditions, psychosocial, intellectual, and cognitive disabilities. The Dr. Frank Njenga led team also found that Kenya’s high burden of mental illness was due to ill health, psychological disability, and premature mortality with huge gaps in access to care.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant health, socio-economic and psychological impacts on the population, hence the need for mental health and psychosocial support, awareness, and preventative measures in the short-term and long-term. The youth are a target group facing various stressful life situations affecting their mental health. Some of which include, unemployment, underemployment, loss of jobs etc. In light of this, there is need for government and other stakeholders to come up with interventions urgently.

It is important to acknowledge the efforts of various players such as the ELF-Africa in tackling mental wellness among the youth by creating spaces and platforms which discuss youth and mental health. As part of addressing the mental health of young people by the government, some recommendations would be coming up with programmes that tackle stress management, depression, resilience, and emotional Intelligence. Moreover, government should incorporate the views of youth with lived experiences on mental health to enrichen the programmes.

About the writer

Albert Migowa is a trained Counselling Psychologist and an Emotional Intelligence trainer and speaker.