Mental health matters have been making the rounds over the past few years. A lot of us are now aware of what ailments such as depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety is.
My favourite part is how we have embraced talking about mental health, campaigns, seminars, podcasts, and the cherry psychiatrists, therapists, and counsellors using social media to educate and share tips for survival.
But first, let us identify common mental health issues in Kenya.
The World Health Organization’s 2017 report on the world mental health situation ranked Kenya fifth among the African countries with the highest number of depression cases.
In addition, the mental health task force report shows high levels of depression and suicidal behaviour, mental distress and substance use in Kenya.
The Kenya Mental Health Policy 2015-2030 is a commitment to pursuing policy measures and strategies for achieving each individual’s optimal health status and capacity to attain the highest standard of mental health.
The policy outlines that mental health is crucial to overall health and socio-economic development.
According to the Kenyan National Commission of Human Rights, depression, stress, substance abuse, and anxiety disorders as the most common mental health ailments.
The Taskforce on Mental Health, formed by former President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2019, found out that one in every ten people has a common mental disorder, with depression and anxiety disorders being the most commonly diagnosed, followed by substance abuse disorders.
As a result, the Taskforce recommended that “mental illness should be declared a National Emergency of epidemic proportions, to prioritize mental health as a priority public health and socio-economic agenda.”
On June 21, 2022, Kenya passed the Mental Health Amendment Bill aligning the country’s mental health laws with the provisions of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010 and the Health Act, 2017.
Depression is often defined as a mood disorder characterized by persistent sadness and loss of interest. The five major causes of depression are stressful personality, ancestral history, having a baby, loneliness, drugs and alcohol, and illness.
One can also be clinically depressed or have a major depressive disorder.
Signs and symptoms of depression
- The most common sign is loss of hope; most people tend to have nothing to look forward to. This feeling may be accompanied by unending sadness, emptiness, and tearfulness.
- Depression may also appear as overreacting; small matters seem to throw them off. They may come off as quickly irritable and have ganger outbursts.
- Friends of depressed people often notice their friends pulling away. They lose interest in activities that previously brought them happiness or pleasure.
- Change in sleep schedule. Some may sleep too much or suffer from insomnia. A change in sleep schedule could be associated with bad dreams, and they may avoid sleeping.
- Low energy levels. Depressed people struggle to do even the least trivial tasks, for instance, showering, cooking, and cleaning after themselves.
- People tend to “tell” your health by your weight. If you lose weight, you are depressed. Depression may result in people gaining weight or losing weight because they struggle with minute tasks such as cooking or leaving the house. While gaining weight may be a result of binge eating and zero movements. Both situations may result in eating disorders.
- A quote says, “if you’re depressed, you are stuck in the past. If you are anxious, you worry about the future too much”. Depression makes you think about the past, what you should have said or done, and how much of a failure you are. This leaves you feeling worthless and self-blaming.
- Sometimes depression may cause none existing ailments such as headaches and back pains.
- Loss of focus, concentration, forgetfulness, and difficulty making decisions.
The above symptoms may vary from person to person.
There are six types of depression
Major depressive disorder
Persistent depressive disorder
Seasonal affective disorder
Anxiety is normal in stressful situations such as public speaking or test-taking. You know that feeling when you are about to say “shukisha”? How fast your heart beats, and how light your head feels?
When feelings become excessive, all-consuming, and interfere with daily living, anxiety is only an indicator of underlying disease.
Signs of Anxiety
Feeling nervous, restless, or tensed.
Increased heart rate
Trouble focusing, concentration
Hyperventilation (rapid breathing)
Feeling fatigued and feeble
Substance use disorder, also known as drug addiction, is a disease that affects a person’sperson’s brain and behaviour, resulting in an inability to control the use of a legal or illegal drug or medicine.
According to the National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NACADA), substance abuse in Kenya is high between the ages of 15 and 65. The most commonly abused drugs are cigarettes and alcohol, both legal and illicit.
Causes of substance abuse
Everyone wants to fit in and have the best alcohol story, with 95% of teens being introduced to alcohol by their peers. Alcohol is also used as socializing tool with statements such as opportunities ziko kwa watu, most contracts and deals being signed over a bottle of whisky.
< wacha nikiwashe nifanye one-two is a joint statement on Twitter implying they need something to boost their courage or calm them.
< escape from reality. “Drown your sorrows” is a common phrase encouraging people to take another shot and drink more smoke.
< an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. The low employment rates leave many youths with a lot of free time. Being dependent past a certain age leaves them feeling worthless, resulting in their self-soothing.
< like father like son? Poor parenting may result in teens emulating their parents or drinking to forget troubles at home.
Many people self-diagnose with the rise in mental health activists, therapists, and people sharing their journey. Self-diagnosis is on the rise.
Although mental health matters should be diagnosed and medication administered by a qualified practitioner, self-diagnosing has resulted in people understanding themselves and getting help.
Phyllis Wanja : How Afyakili is Improving Mental Health Through Art Therapy
With mental health, it is the little steps that help.
< try sleeping at the same time and waking up at the same time to help fight insomnia.
< When having an anxiety attack, box breathing
Step 1: Slowly inhale and count to four. Allow the air to enter your lungs.
Step 2: For 4 seconds, hold your breath. Try not to inhale or exhale for 4 seconds.
Step 3: Exhale slowly for 4 seconds through your mouth.
Step 4: Repeat steps 1–3 until you feel centred again.
< Go for walks when you feel overwhelmed. A change in environment helps elevate your mood.
< Movement, moving your body has been proven to improve your moods, reduce anxiety and improve general health. Working releases endorphins, a pain relief hormone.
< To release Dopamine, the rewarding chemical, finish a task, do your skincare, and make yourself a healthy snack.
< Serotonin helps stabilize your mood. To activate this happy hormone, bask in the sun, meditate, run, and spend time in nature.
< Oxytocin, the love hormone. We need to feel love for us to function. Hug your loved one, play with your pet, cuddle, hold hands or babysit.
Suicide emergency numbers
1:Befrienders Kenya click here
+254 722 178 177.
2: Niskize click here
0900 620 800 or +254 718 227 440.
3: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy-Kenya (CBT-Kenya) click here
+254 739 935 333 or +254 756 454 585.
4: Redcross Kenya, click here
Kenya Backs UN Resolution to Recognise Human Right to Healthy Environment