Police parade

Officers during a pass out parade at National Police College in Kiganjo on January 20, 2022.

| Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group 

One in 10 police officers 'has mental health issues', study shows

What you need to know:

  • A report by task force on Mental Health in Kenya recommended that mental illness be declared a national emergency.
  • The task force recommended that suicide be decriminalised to help reduce stigma resulting from it.

One in every 10 police officers in the country is suffering from mental health problem, a study by the National Police Service Commission (NPSC) has revealed.

This translates to more than 10,000 officers from the country’s pool of more than 100,000 officers across the country.

About 100 officers drawn from various police units are on treatment at Chiromo Hospital Group, Bustani for various mental health problems.

The commission’s CEO, Mr Joseph Onyango, yesterday said the figure matches global trends on the mental state of police officers.

“What I have already seen from the figures coming out of the assessment we have already done is that the mental cases out of all cases of employee wellness are towards 12 to 13 percent,” said Mr Onyango.

He was speaking during a one-day training of the 47 Administration Police commanders. 

The training is meant to assist the commanders to detect and assist officers who exhibit symptoms of mental illness within their jurisdictions.

AP officers work in some of the remotest regions of the country, safeguarding the borders, protecting government infrastructure and vital installations, and are exposed to life threatening situations.

Deputy Inspector General in charge of Administration Police Noor Gabow noted that the training will have a direct impact on junior officers and the community at large. 

He added that the construction of the National Police Service Referral Hospital in Nairobi and another 160-bed hospital at the Border Patrol Unit Campus in Kanyonyo, Kitui County, will go a long way in providing counselling, trauma healing and psychosocial support to AP officers.

Last year, Kenya Police commanders from all the counties went through a similar training, and on Friday, prison commanders who were described as worst hit by mental issues, are expected to be trained.

The NPSC analyses and initial studies indicate that the reasons for which police officers arrive at dire stress levels revolve around human resource issues, including promotions, deployments, transfers, training and financial management.

“Today’s training is one of the policies being implemented to address these issues,” said Mr Onyango.

Chiromo Hospital’s mental health experts added that the officers' work environment, coupled with long stays away from family and friends, regular transfers and lack of systematic counselling services, had for a long time worked against the mental wellbeing of the officers.

Cases of mental illness are, however, not the preserve of the officers in uniform. A report by the task force on Mental Health in Kenya recommended that mental illness be declared a national emergency of epidemic proportions and a mental wellness and happiness commission formed to monitor the state of mental health and happiness among Kenyans.

The task force recommended that suicide be decriminalised to help reduce stigma resulting from it and encourage early identification, management and follow up of people at risk of suicide.

The task force’s chairman and presidential adviser on mental health, Dr Frank Njenga, noted that rising cases of suicides and killings by officers have, however, led to a misconception over the general state of officers’ mental health.

“We keep forgetting that police officers are normal people put in abnormal environments. Being on the frontline responding to terror threats and collecting bodies from River Yala is not what human beings were wired to do,” said Dr Njenga. 

The report recommended that officers found to exhibit symptoms of mental illnesses be restricted from accessing firearms.

To mask their illnesses, officers are reported to have resorted to alcoholism and drug abuse, with a survey conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in collaboration with the National Police Service in 2018 revealing that 61 percent of officers consume alcohol regularly. 

Nine out of 10 within this group met the criteria for excess alcohol consumption, while 42 percent were found to be at risk of alcohol abuse and 35 percent were found to be at risk of alcohol use disorder.

Four percent met the diagnosis criteria for substance abuse disorders and the average age for the first drink among officers was 22.

Additionally, the study found male officers who were married, blessed with children and between the age of 30 and 39 within the rank of constables were at greater risk than their female counterparts.