Dorcas Gachagua: Let mental health be a human rights issue

Dorcas Rigathi- the Second Lady of the Republic of Kenya and Nation Media Group CEO Stephen Gitagama during the second edition of Mental Wellness and Counseling Conference themed 'Promoting mental health as a universal human right' at the Ole Sereni Hotel, Nairobi on September 22, 2023. 

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi I Nation Media Group

Deputy President’s wife Dorcas Rigathi wants mental health needs to be taken as a human right and measures put in place to ensure the psychological well-being of every Kenyan.

During a forum on the promotion of mental health as a universal human right organised by Nation Media Group (NMG) at Emara Ole Sereni Hotel, Nairobi, on Friday Ms Rigathi said the condition needs to be addressed at the family level.

She acknowledged societal challenges but said mental health can be addressed with care and love.

“This is not merely a health crisis. It is a national concern affecting our productivity, harmony in society, family relationships and the overall well-being and happiness of our people,” she said.

The Mental Wellness Conference attracted hundreds of experts. Health stakeholders urged employers to prioritise the well-being of workers.

“Mental health is not fully understood in Africa, especially in the family setting. Research has shown that good health is central to our happiness and well-being. I encourage media houses to join NMG in this formidable campaign on mental health,” she added.

According to a Kenya National Bureau of Statistics report released in March, one in every four Kenyans has had mental illness at one point in their life.

The report showed that more men than women have had mental problems. 

Ms Rigathi also promised to advocate for the rights of boys, saying it is one way of fighting mental illness.

She said that is the reason she has being going to slums and many other underprivileged parts of the country where many young people abuse drugs. 

“If we want to eliminate gender-based violence, society must nurture men. This will allow them to achieve their dreams and ambitions. One way of lifting girls is lifting boys too,” she added.

“However much some say that it is dangerous to go to slums where these young people are, that is the job I will continue doing. We want to turn their lives around. The moment we nurture them, addiction will go down and that is part of fighting mental illness too” 

Health Cabinet Secretary, Susan Nakhumicha, whose speech was read by Mental of Health Director Simon Njuguna, said the government recognises mental health as a significant matter.

The minister added that the government has provided support to county governments to implement the Mental Health Action Plan.

Ms Nakhumicha said the government has involved many stakeholders in the drive, including education officials, media houses and security personnel in addressing stigma that is usually associated with mental health.

“Kenya’s annual economic loss due to the mental health burden is Sh62 billion, with the menace affecting overall productivity,” the minister said.

“We have come up with national guidelines on how to access mental health services.

NMG Chief Executive Officer, Stephen Gitagama, named depression and anxiety as some of the main mental health concerns. 

Mr Gitagama added that the media company has put in place measures to ensure the mental wellness of its employees.

“Ensuring every Kenya’s right to mental medical care is a fundamental mission. Most cases of depression and anxiety remain untreated due to the stigma surrounding mental health,” he said. 

“At NMG, we have implemented comprehensive measures to safeguard our employees’ mental wellness and protect them from mental disorders.”

Acting National Authority for the Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada) Chief Executive Officer, John Muteti, urged the government to implement policies that restrict the sale of drugs. 

Prof Muteti said some of the drugs are readily available online. 

He added that substance abuse among children presents many challenges that Kenyan authorities must address as part of ensuring mental wellness.

Dr Oscar Githua, a member of the Counsellors and Psychologists Board, said the agency is committed to mental health by prioritising counselling and implementing other measures through trained professionals.