Interventions on mental health challenges in police service should be made long term
The burden and challenges of mental health in Kenya cannot be overemphasized. Its prevalence is growing and continually being recognized in the country. Discriminating no individual, the subject of mental health is now gaining traction as a thorny issue in the country’s police force where it has for years been largely unheard and unthought. To some extent, I do concur with the view of the Deputy Inspector General of Police Edward Mbugua who recently told the National Assembly’s Security and Administration Committee that issues affecting police officers cannot be solved through counselling alone. But again, it is of paramount importance that it receives more attention as research has indicated that mental health problems are the second most common cause of medical downgrading and discharge among uniformed officers in the global spectrum.
For years, the subject of mental health has been largely unspoken of, riddled with stigmatization of profound intensity. However, the growing incidences, including rise in suicide cases and other psychosocial issues within the police service, have raised questions that require solutions.
For starters, the country has an existent policy on mental health, The Kenya Mental Health Policy 2015-2030, which offers a framework on intervention for securing mental health reforms in Kenya as stipulated in the Constitution of Kenya. A key aspect of the policy is that it capitalizes on the fact that it must first be understood whilst emphasizing it is a key determinant of overall health and socio-economic development. Fortunately, this has been well captured by the authorities as the National Police Service Commission has rolled out an exercise that will ensure all officers undergo mental assessments targeted at addressing the rising cases of suicide, and further assess the mental capacity of the officers and whether they are fit to continue in service. Beyond suicide, the questionable mental health problems in the service have also been attributed to the dismal functioning of many police officers at an individual level and the detrimental personal relationships at home or at work that have led to a rise in homicide and violence at the household level.
By conducting an assessment on police officers, the Commission will first be able to gauge the level of vulnerability of the officers when it comes to their mental health. This should act as an impetus to introduce and implement comprehensive reforms that are likely to increase awareness on mental health. On a global scale, different countries have adopted a variety of strategies in tackling mental health challenges among uniformed officers. United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence Strategy dubbed Defence People Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy 2017-2022, for instance, highlights the importance of a health and wellbeing research. The strategy outlines an approach centered on education and understanding, empowerment of leaders and promotion of positive wellbeing of individuals that provides room for early detection, leadership support and seeking expert treatment.
The planned mental status assessment of all officers by the National Police Service Commission can thus borrow from UK’s approach as the assessment will offer a comprehensive situational analysis among police officers. It is also a sign that barriers to mental health are gradually being broken as attention on the issue gains traction. This is a commendable starting point in even watering down the stigma that revolves around individuals speaking out on their mental health status. The stigmatization my also be a probable reason as to why there in an insufficiency of data and information on the prevalence of mental health, neurological, and substance use (MNS) in the country as indicated in its Health Policy.
Though tasking, addressing mental health in the police service should be fully embraced as a long-term undertaking as it is likely to have far-reaching positive effects on the conduct of officers in the service further complimenting the much sought-after police reforms.