Let us rethink mental illness
The world observed Bipolar Day on Tuesday, a date set aside to create awareness about one of the prominent mental illnesses, and to eliminate social stigma.
Like many other mental health conditions, bipolar disorder affects all areas of life, from relationships, work and school.
It also exposes the patient to other health risks, including suicide.
Against this background, it is time to rethink mental illness, especially now with the second Covid-19 lockdown, which has exposed Kenyans to difficult situations, yet again.
Experts call for the identification of different degrees of mental illness instead of waiting for all symptoms to show to address the condition at the point in time.
At the same time, we need to acknowledge that not all negative emotions or mood is a sign of a mental condition.
This is why having a space where such issues can be discussed by an expert is vital, and a space where stories of people with the conditions can be highlighted, so that we are able to understand the debilitating effects and how we can help in addressing them.
Importantly, the government and private sector should come together to ensure access to mental healthcare is prioritised, now more than ever.
The Mental Health Taskforce report indicates the country has a high burden of mental illness due to ill health, psychosocial disability and premature mortality with huge gaps in access to care.
It also shows that mental healthcare is underfunded (0.01 per cent of total health as at 2017) and there has been inadequate or lack of coverage by private insurers.
We are taking steps in the right direction with the inclusion of mental health in the Universal Health Coverage, which aims at reducing out-of-pocket expenses for patients and their families. However, more needs to be done.
The recommendations of the taskforce to amend the Mental Health Act to provide a fund for this healthcare service, and to increase equitable funding as well as scope of financed mental health care services, should be prioritised, just as the recommendation to offer tax exemptions to people living with mental health conditions and tax incentives to individuals and organisations that run mental health programmes.
Offering safe spaces for individuals and groups is also the right way to go, as is providing adequate mental health staff that are qualified and well-trained.
This way, the country would be better placed to make lives for people living with various mental health conditions safer and easier.
It would also reduce the burden of mental health on individuals, families and the community.