The Silent and Dangerous Ailment
Oti*, not his real name a few years ago was a prospering focused hardworking technician in Mombasa. He was living well and taking care of his family comfortably. For over 20 years he balanced his work life and alcohol consumption. Things took a nosedive when he lost his job as a result of covid-19 and returned to his Kendu Bay Village, Homa Bay county over 800km away from his workstation. According to him, “I did not just lose my job. I lost myself, my family, and everything I have ever known. The stress and anxiety I am going through is unbearable. Seeking solace in cheap village liquor has worsened my situation. I have lost interest in food, people, and work. I am not able to manage nor control myself. I feel like I am drowning in a cesspool of disaster.”
Otis’ situation is a replica of myriad of prevalent mental health cases in Kenya. A study conducted by Kwoba et al. (2017) in Nandi County Western Kenya found that at least 45 percent of the population suffered from mental health disorders. Typical cases include anxiety, depression, dissociation, paranoia, and emotional disorders. The 2017 study asserts anxiety as the greatest mental health concern in the region, with a 15.7 percent prevalence rate. This is related to poverty, unemployment, social and economic problems, and crime which are concerning trends in this region. Many young people, especially the unemployed and drug addicts are adopting adverse coping mechanisms such as drinking, which inevitably leads to the disturbance of families and society. These young people are viewed as a constant menace because they often go to great heights to secure what they want, by stealing, selling their property, amongst other tactics.
Similarly, the Kwoba et al,( 2017) study revealed 16.4% suffered from psychotic episodes of suicidal attempts in their lifetime. Believers in Supreme Being and faithful such as Christians and Muslims relate these changes to the devil. Others relate it to societal pressure, age, illnesses, and unmet expectations as some of the causes of this mental health problem.
The Pressure on Children
Emotional and behavioral disorders cuts across all ages. For example, children depict opposition defiant disorder especially those from underprivileged backgrounds who are under pressure to perform not only academically but socially too. The youth also face the daunting pressure to succeed and relieve their families from economic hardship. These sentiments are supported by the Ndetei., M et al (2016) study among upper primary pupils in Kenya. They found somatic problems as most prevalent at 29.6%, effective disorders at 14.1%, and conduct disorders at 12.5%. Additionally, peer pressure, social media influence, use of modern technology influence expose the youth to alternative, harmful lifestyles which is a major cause of the identity crisis experienced by these youth.
It is clear from the facts above that those with mental health challenges need help to understand their predicament, to cope, and reshape their lives. According to a 2017 WHO report, depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide. Kenya is ranked as the sixth African country with the highest levels of depression with at least 1.9 million diagnosed suffering from depression. It is extremely disheartening to learn that most of the casualties of mental health are not aware of their problems and many of the cases go undiagnosed. All patients need support and comfort so there is an increased need for quality mental health services to curb the rise of this silent disease. To achieve this there is urgent need for more epidemiological studies to get enough information that will guide solutions and policy formulations. Blink International is committed to ensuring that non-specialized health care workers received the necessary training and capacity building to provide quality care and reintegration back into their communities. It is our humble appeal that other stakeholders work to integrate mental health into their development programmes to ensure that no one is left behind.
This article was written by Nickson Magak and edited by Devon Andrews