KENYA: Bishops Call for Integration of Mental Health into Primary Healthcare

By Arnold Neliba

NAIROBI, FEBRUARY 21, 2023 (CISA)- “Being mentally healthy implies that we can cope with difficult times, feel in control, confident and good about ourselves, manage and express our emotions, build and maintain good relationships,” reads a statement signed by Archbishop Martin Kivuva of the Catholic Archdiocese of Mombasa and Chairman of Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB).

In the statement read by Archbishop Maurice Muhatia Makumba, the Vice-Chairman of KCCB during the National Launch of the Lenten Campaign 2023 at St. Peter’s Minor Seminary Mukumu, Kakamega, on February 17, the bishops recommended: “integration of mental health into all levels of the country’s healthcare system, training community mental health workers, strategizing on ways to increase the number of mental health professionals, and using technology to promote access to mental healthcare.”

“We acknowledge that cases of mental illness are on the rise. Economic hardships, changing family dynamics, intense secular values that draw people to pleasure and consumerism and a sweeping sense of hopelessness among especially young people and families, are driving people into anxieties and depressions which sometimes result in murders and suicides,” stated Rt Rev John Oballa Owaa, chairperson of KCCB’s Commission for Promotion of Integral Human Development (CPIHD).

According to the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Ngong, the focus for the second week of Lent 2023 will be a reflection on mental wellness.

He also appealed to the people “to strengthen good relationships in our neighbourhoods, places of work and any other interactive space as a deliberate measure to slow incidents of mental illness.”

Key findings according to the Kenya Mental Health Taskforce Report 2020 indicate that mental and neurological disorders are common and widespread in the country.

“It was clear that at least 25% of outpatients and 40% of inpatients in different health facilities had a mental illness, and an estimated prevalence of psychosis stated as 1% of the general population. The common mental illnesses in Kenya are depression and suicide, substance use disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other psychoses,” the report states.

The report also indicates that the needs of special groups such as children and youth, women, refugees, prisoners, disciplined forces, sexual minorities, the boy child, people living with chronic physical illnesses, persons with disability, and survivors of gender-based violence may not be fully addressed by primary health care service providers.

It states that the high burden of mental illness is due to ill health, psychosocial disability and premature mortality with huge gaps in access to care.

According to the World Health Organization, providing mental health services in primary healthcare involves diagnosing and treating people with mental disorders; putting in place strategies to prevent mental disorders and ensuring that primary healthcare workers can apply key psychosocial and behavioural science skills, for example, interviewing, counselling and interpersonal skills, in their day to day work to improve overall health outcomes in primary healthcare.