In a country ravaged for decades by Malaria, HIV/AIDS, bad governance and poverty, we have found it of little importance to discuss the rather pervasive effects of mental health disorders. However, a more recent pandemic, Covid -19, has forced a very intransigent African society to re-look this poor state of affairs.
Mental health, as defined by the United States Department of Health and Human Services is our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel and act. It also helps to determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.
In 2017, Kenya joined the world in observing World Mental Health Day on October 7, and the theme for that year was: Mental Health in the Workplace. At this point, research showed that 1 in 4 adults would experience mental health difficulties, while 10% of the population had already taken time off work due to depression. This is in stark contrast to 2020 where a Mental Health Task Force formed at the behest of the President of the Republic of Kenya, urged the government to declare mental health a national emergency.
Which begs the question: What changed?
“The rising number of mental health-related cases in the country, such as depression, and other mental illnesses have been a concern to the government,” Mutahi Kagwe, the Cabinet Secretary Ministry for Health, said.
Kenyans are ‘wired’ to put in hours in high-stress work environments from 9am – 5pm, grab a pint at the local pub as a coping mechanism for the pent-up work-related anger and frustration, rinse and repeat the routine throughout the week.
The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic forced Kenya into a partial lockdown, the enforcement of curfews and opportunities to socialize were restricted.
This, for a majority of Kenyans, was not only a drastic change but mental health stress and led to an increase in Gender-Based Violence cases by 36% as per the data from the Ministry of Public Service and Gender.
It is, therefore, safe to infer a direct correlation between the pandemic and the rise in mental health-related issues, ceteris paribus.
Based on the far-reaching effects of mental health, mental wellness can no longer be ignored as it is one of the key elements in maintaining robust social structures. The day-to-day struggles of putting clothes on our backs and food on the table will mean nothing once we are crippled both psychologically and physically by anxiety, depression, or a slew of other mental health-related issues.
Now that we have an idea of what mental health is and problems associated with a lack of mental health wellness, we need to keep our eyes peeled for tell-tale signs of someone around us struggling with their mental health, albeit one can exhibit one or more obvious symptoms, others are much more obscure.
Employers and insurance companies also have a moral obligation to allocate meaningful resources towards mental health wellness.
Contributor: Emily Onyando