Varsity students’ heads unite against government over increased mental health cases

Varsity students’ heads unite against government over increased mental health cases

Kenya universities student leaders have called on the Government to enhance funding towards mental health awareness issues to curb the increased cases of suicide and depression among the youth.

Speaking at a press briefing in Nairobi, student leaders from 14 private and public universities called on the Government to be more deliberate in its approach on mental health issues by treating it as a serious medical concern, and not a peripheral issue.

This comes as number of suicide cases among the youth, particularly university students, has been on the rise in recent months – pointing to a worrying trend.

In Kenya, it is estimated that one in every 10 people suffer from a common mental disorder. The number increases to one in every four (20-25%) people among patients attending routine outpatient services.

In a 2017 report titled “Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders”, the WHO ranked Kenya fifth among African countries with the highest number of depression cases. The report went further to show that there exist high levels of depression and suicidal behavior, high levels of mental distress, and substance use in Kenya.

In their statement, the students called on the Government to review the progress of the Kenya Mental Health Policy with a view of identifying gaps that needed bridging.

“To the Government, we are calling on a status review of the progress of the Kenya Mental Health Policy which covers the period between 2015 and 2030. The policy is a commitment to pursuing policy measures and strategies for achieving optimal health status and capacity of every Kenyan,” they said.

The students also demanded for a progress review of the Ministry of Health’s Mental Health Task Force Report of 2020 which made several recommendations, among them, enhanced funding towards mental health care.

“Further, the Government should review the progress of the implementation of the recommendations of the Ministry of Health’s Mental Health Task Force Report of 2020.

“For instance, the Government should consider enhancing the budgetary allocation to mental health from the current 0.01% of the total health expenditure, as reported in the report, to a more substantive allocation. This, according to the task force, can be achieved by amending the Mental Health Act to provide for a Mental Health Fund,” they said.

The student leaders pledged to be more available to all students who would like to speak up, saying that they will reach out to well-wishers who can can fund Mental Health Awareness campaigns among student populations across the universities.

In doing so, the students announced that they would be launching an online awareness campaign aimed at creating a safe environment for students to share their issues.

“We are today launching a 60-day online awareness campaign on mental health among comrades in a bid to create a safe environment for comrades to speak and share issues as we seek solutions together.

“We hope that this is just the beginning of a conversation that will lead to the transformation of how the country handles mental health issues, especially among the youth,” they said.

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This comes as the world commemorates World Mental Health Day – which is marked annually on October 10.

Lack of progress in leadership, governance and financing

In July, the County Government of Kisumu set aside Ksh.3 million to establish strong and functioning mental health care systems in the area.

“The County Health Department will spend some Sh.1 million to acquire an office space and fully equip it before it commences operations,” said Dr. Fredrick Oluoch, County Director of Public Health and Sanitation.

There have been mounting concerns on the state of mental-related issues in the country due to the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The proposed amount would be used to refurbish Kisumu County Referral Hospital (KCRH) Psychiatric Unit. County Counseling Services, would also be established for civil servants and county workers.

Kisumu is positioning herself to better the environment and services for mental health patients and establishing counseling services for civil servants and county staff as it will also prepare them for retirement.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said COVID-19 has had a major impact on people’s Mental Health with health workers, students, people living alone and those with pre-existing conditions having been particularly affected.

However, WHO maintained that none of the targets for effective leadership and governance for mental health, provision of mental health services in community-based settings, mental health promotion and prevention, and strengthening of information systems, were close to being achieved.

In 2020, just 51 percent of WHO’s 194 Member States reported that their mental health policy or plan was in line with international and regional human rights instruments, way short of the 80% target.

And only 52 percent of countries met the target relating to mental health promotion and prevention programmes, also well below the 80 percent target.

“The only 2020 target met was a reduction in the rate of suicide by 10 percent, but even then, only 35 countries said they had a stand-alone prevention strategy, policy or plan,” said WHO.

While the systematic decentralization of mental health care to community settings has long been recommended by WHO, only 25% of responding countries met all the criteria for integration of mental health into primary care.

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Lawrence Baraza is a prolific writer with competencies in Digital Media, Print, and Broadcast. Baraza is also a Communication Practitioner currently spearheading Digital content on Metropol TV's Digital Desk.

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