The County Government of Nakuru has announced a list of 17 health facilities where residents will get mental health care and psychological support services amid rising cases of gender-based violence and suicide in the devolved unit.
Clinical Psychologist at the Nakuru Level 5 Teaching and Referral Hospital Dr Cleophas Wafula said the services offered include psychotherapy and counselling, mental wellness clinic, psychiatry, school mental health, community mental health, child and adolescents’ mental health assessments as well as electroconvulsive therapy and Occupational therapy.
Residents can access the services at the Nakuru Level 5 Teaching and Referral Hospital and at all the County’s 16 high-volume level four hospitals spread out in all the 11 Sub-Counties.
Previously, Governor Lee Kinyanjui confirmed that his administration has employed more than 120 psychiatrists, mental health nurses, psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists and general staff who provide mental healthcare services at different levels at psychiatric units within the 17 health care facilities.
Dr Wafula stated that the establishment of the additional psychiatric facilities was geared towards providing residents with quality and affordable mental health care adding that currently the cost of treating mental illness stood at between Sh50, 000 to Sh100, 000 before factoring in the doctor’s consultation fee of Sh10, 000, which is way beyond affordability by most Kenyans.
“The cost of accessing treatment in private hospitals is even higher owing to the fact that between Sh3000 to Sh5000 has to be paid per day every time a psychiatrist attends to a patient. We need to bring the cost down so that many people get the proper treatment. Kenyans, who cannot afford to seek treatment, continue to suffer from the effects of mental illness. We are committed to ensuring that proper mental health care is not a preserve for the rich in society,” stated the Clinical Psychologist.
The mental health care services are also available at Bahati, Elburgon, Gilgil, Molo, Naivasha, Olenguruone, Langalanga and Njoro Sub-County Hospitals.
Other facilities offering the services include Bondeni Maternity, Naivasha Level 4 Hospital, Gilgil Mental Hospital and Kabazi, Keringet, Kuresoi, Lanet and Subukia Sub-County Hospitals.
Dr Wafula was addressing a stakeholders’ meeting held at the county headquarters that brought together legal experts, employers from public and private sector, borstal and educational institutions, substance abuse rehabilitation centres, psychiatrists, psychologists and counsellors among other stakeholders to deliberate on strategies to improve mental health wellness in the County.
He indicated that the Nakuru Level 5 facility was also providing both inpatient and outpatient services that include general psychiatric treatments for both children and adults among other services for people living with substance abuse disorder, autism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, among other mental health issues.
Dr Wafula added that other interventions that were being prioritized include grassroots advocacy to reduce stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness adding that the County administration and other stakeholders have adopted a strategy to promote financing and investments required to scale up access to quality and affordable mental health care services in all the 11 Sub-Counties.
At the same time the Clinical Psychologist expressed concern that most Kenyans were unaware that the Mental Health Act 2014 criminalizes any insurance provider that discriminates against people with mental illness, while the National Health Insurance Fund fully covers mental illness treatment in any hospital that has a psychiatrist.
While noting that nearly four million Kenyans suffer from a mental disorder Dr Wafula stated that 20 to 40 per cent of locals seeking out-patient services and about 40 per cent of in-patients in Nakuru’s health facilities have one or more mental disorders.
He added, “The increase in urbanization is creating an individualistic society which is disconnected from its social support system. This greatly predisposes people to mental illness. The County has been running programs that encourage individuals to be self-aware and to pay attention to sudden changes in thoughts and behaviours. We encourage people who suspect that they or someone they know have a mental illness to seek early treatment and to keep tabs on any changes in their general health to minimize any chances of relapse.”
County Coordinator for Mental Health, Ms Lydia Njoki urged individuals, families, and communities to utilize the facilities to detect mental disorders early enough for them to effectively cope with challenges associated with mental illnesses.
Njoki said that the devolved unit had formulated a policy and legislative framework to facilitate more investments in mental health care.
While urging employers to factor in the welfare of their employees’ mental treatment services, Njoki said various studies had shown that depressed workers lose five hours and 36 minutes of productive work every week compared with one and a half hours for the non-depressed.
“The County has also been actively running campaigns that promote mental health check-ups to assess the state of our minds the same way we do dental, optical or body check-ups especially if one works in a high-pressure or stressful environment. The same applies to young children. Early medical diagnosis is crucial in supporting the recovery process and in ensuring your quality of life is not negatively affected,” she noted.
The Coordinator affirmed that the devolved unit was reviewing over-reliance on medical-led interventions and redirected its commitment to addressing the social determinants of mental ill-health and exploring possibilities of providing community-based mental health services.
“People have better health outcomes when they access comprehensive mental health services within their communities than in institutional settings. The former provides an opportunity for them to access other support services that enable them to be productive members of the society,” she pointed out.
She said that the county is committed to plugging the funding gap that has derailed access to quality treatment for citizens suffering from mental illnesses including, depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, attention deficit hyperactivity, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Njoki observed that stress linked to Covid-19 scourge, modern lifestyles, alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence and abject poverty have worsened the burden of mental diseases in the country.
Depression is the most common mental illness, affecting more than 300 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It is also the leading cause of disability. When not attended to, it can lead to suicidal thoughts.
WHO estimates that about 800,000 people commit suicide every year and it is the second leading cause of death among youth age 15 – 29 globally.
Though Kenya’s suicide rate is below Africa’s average of nine deaths per 100,000 figures from WHO show that the suicide rate per 100,000 people in Kenya is seven.
“Depression and anxiety disorder can be easily ignored because they are not as dramatic as conditions like schizophrenia, which is a chronic and severe mental disorder. Some people do not see the diseases as treatable, as they can easily be confused for stress,” noted the coordinator.
Njoki stated that the devolved unit’s administration was leveraging on data, research, telemedicine, robust financing and policy reforms to promote access to quality and affordable mental health care services.
She added, “We have revitalized efforts to scale up funding, public awareness and novel clinical interventions to reduce the burden of mental illnesses in Nakuru. The county has adopted international best practices to boost response to mental disorders linked to genetics, social and environmental factors.”
Njoki pointed out that with about two million cases of depression annually, Kenya ranks second in East Africa after Tanzania (2.1 million cases). She revealed that there were concerns that the number could be higher since there are people who are depressed yet do not seek treatment.
According to WHO data Nigeria, the most populous country in the continent, leads with seven million cases of depression, followed by Ethiopia (four million) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (three million). Seychelles recorded the lowest number of cases in the world at 3,722.
There are more than 200 classified forms of mental illness and many people suffer from more than one mental disorder at a given time, states the American Psychological Association. Besides depression, some of the more common disorders are bipolar disorder, dementia and schizophrenia, which globally affect about 60 million, 48 million and 21 million people respectively.