Mental illness in Kenya has reached pandemic levels
Mental illness is the new pandemic in Kenya. Covid-19 has seemingly exerted so much tension and pressure on society that it is unravelling at the seams.
This is manifesting itself in a full blown crisis of mental illness, as stress and trauma push people over the edge.
The latest manifestation is the fugitive cop, Caroline Kangogo. At 34, Caroline is young and beautiful, an apparently well regarded individual both at personal and professional levels – not your typical spider-woman or bloodthirsty serial killer.
Yet this mother of two has gone on a rampage, without any obvious warning signs, and is suspected of shocking murders of her colleague who was her lover, and a businessman ex-boyfriend whom she lured to his death.
She then went into hiding and has, unbelievably, eluded a major police manhunt for a week now, as she traverses the country in pursuit of her third victim. You can’t make this up.
The case of the young female doctor who committed suicide is even more heartbreaking.
Lydia Wahura was a postgraduate student of medicine who, at 35, seemed to have the world at her feet.
She wrote a heart wrenching suicide note before leaving class and going to commit suicide in her car parked at Kenyatta National and Referral Hospital parking lot. It doesn’t get more tragic.
A traumatising video clip doing the rounds on social media shows how mental illness has ensnared society as it slept.
The clip is said to be that of a well-known governance champion stripped completely naked, and nonchalantly walking the streets of Nairobi.
No violence or anything, just apparently going about his stuff with absolutely no situational awareness. Very saddening.
These are a few illustrations that demonstrate that, as a society, Kenya has now reached tipping point in terms of mental illness.
Take into consideration that these are the cases that have found their way into the national limelight probably because of their notoriety, or prominence of the individuals involved.
So, what is happening outside the public limelight is probably catastrophic. One shudders to imagine what police officers and health workers are going through as their workloads soar due to the effects of Covid-19 pandemic.
The Ministry of Health needs to deal with the crisis of mental health using the same template it employed for Covid-19.
Public education and sensitisation is key. Kenyans need to be told that mental illness is now a pandemic and people should be alert to watch out for it.
People must know the signs to look out for, and when to seek help for themselves and for others.
This public sensitisation will help in mainstreaming mental illness, normalising it as a sickness like any other and removing stigma.
Public education must include information on maintaining good mental health.
The government must pour resources into treatment and isolation facilities for people suffering from mental health.
This investment must be undertaken in public hospitals across the 47 countries, much in the same way as Level 4 and 5 hospitals were equipped to handle Covid-19 patients.
Healthcare workers must be trained on diagnosis and handling of mental illness cases.
There must be a referral system in place so that health workers are not stuck with patients who need treatment and care and they have nowhere to take them.
And finally, the Ministry needs to urgently map the intensity and geography of mental illness in the country.
This will inform it of whom, where and which mental illness are in the country to facilitate the development of a strategy to manage what has become a major threat to society.
Hand in hand with mental illness is the crisis of soaring crime. The country has witnessed a spike in kidnappings, murders, child abductions and petty theft attributable to the harsh economic times the country is going through because of restrictions imposed to contain the spread of Covid-19.
Despite the current budget challenges, the government must recalibrate its finances to find money to keep youth productively engaged through schemes such as Kazi Mitaani until the pandemic is over and life returns to normal. —[email protected]