Sunday was World Mental Health Day, which is celebrated every October 10 to raise awareness of and spread education about mental health issues. Mental health has come to focus in these pandemic times like never before as people of all age groups and occupations bear the brunt of the ‘new normal’.
Health and other frontline workers, students, people living alone and those with pre-existing mental health conditions have been particularly affected. In recent years, there has been increasing acknowledgement of the important role mental health plays in achieving global development goals, as illustrated by the inclusion of mental health in the Sustainable Development Goals by the World Health Organization (WHO).
People with mental health conditions are at a higher risk of dying prematurely. Depression, one of the commonest mental health illnesses, is among the leading causes of disability while suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds, according to WHO.
Most of the people living with mental health problems in the low- and middle-income countries do not get adequate treatment. The prevailing Covid-19 pandemic has increased our challenges multi-fold, which need to be prioritised.
During this year’s commemoration, mental health needs to be looked into keenly since the pandemic has affected everyone and people with long-term conditions or parenting on their own are struggling the most and need more support.
The day provides an opportunity to talk about mental health in general, how to break the stigma around it and the importance of speaking out when struggling with a mental health issue. We ought to address workplace stress and help adolescents in school as caregivers of families of people living with mental issues. We also need to proactively address the stigma and discrimination associated with mental ill-health that create a barrier to care and treatment.
Ochanda Lorine, Kisumu
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At least 317 people die by suicide yearly. For every case, there are 25 attempts. Of the 421 suicides in Kenya in 2017, men comprised 330 with cases up by 58 per cent between 2008 and 2017.
Key findings of the Mental Health Task Force indicate that the country has a high burden of mental illness. Accounting for 1.4 per cent of deaths, suicide is a complex issue involving biological, psychological, social, cultural, spiritual, economic and the physical environment in which people live.
Suicide presents a major challenge to public health. Every 40 seconds, a person takes their own life. It is estimated that 800,000 people die by suicide yearly. Every suicide causes a devastating impact on families and friends. For every suicide, 135 people are affected; in a year, up to 6.3 million people are affected.
The time is ripe for mental health professionals to adopt proactive and leadership roles in suicide prevention and save the lives of thousands of Kenyans.
Emmanuel Osama, Siaya