Rights lobby urges counties to allocate more cash to mental health

Mental health

Mental Health Day is marked annually on 10 October

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What you need to know:

  • Kenya is on track to prioritise, promote and protect mental health for all as a universal human right, in line with this year’s theme
  • The most significant step was enactment of the Mental Health (Amendment) Act 2022

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) has urged county governments to increase mental health budgets to achieve wellness and economic goals.

In a statement issued yesterday by KNCHR chairperson Roselyn Odede, the organisation stressed the need to create awareness and promote discussion on mental health. She also acknowledged efforts to prioritise and address mental health issues in the country through a number of interventions.

She spoke at this year's Mental Health Day.

“On this day, we are all called upon to continue to raise awareness, promote action and implement interventions that prioritise, promote and protect the mental health of every person as a universal human right, in line with this year's theme ‘Mental Health is a Universal Human Right’.”

The organisation notes that some of the actions taken so far include those contained in the Mental Health Action Plan (2021-2025), the Suicide Prevention Strategy (2021-2026), the Mental Health Investment Case, 2021, and the recently launched National Guidelines on Mental Wellness in the Workplace, 2023.

“Of these, the most significant step was enactment of the Mental Health (Amendment) Act 2022, which identifies persons with mental illness to include a person diagnosed with an alcohol or substance use disorder and a person with suicidal ideation or behaviour.

The Act also provides for the rights of persons with mental illness, including the right to “appropriate, affordable and accessible physical and mental health care, counselling, rehabilitation and aftercare”.

Mental disorders are recognised as one of the major non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The World Health Organization notes that there has been a 13 percent increase in mental health conditions and substance use disorders over the past decade, with an estimated one in eight people living with a mental health condition in 2019. WHO also estimates that 20 per cent of children and adolescents worldwide have a mental health problem, with suicide the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds.

In Kenya, the 2020 Mental Health Taskforce Report indicated that mental illnesses such as depression and suicide, substance use disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other psychoses account for 13 per cent of the total burden of disease in Kenya. The Ministry of Health estimates this toll at Ksh62.2 billion annually (0.6 per cent of GDP) due to loss of productive capacity.

The ministry’s Mental Health Investment Case 2021 indicates that the investment required for selected clinical packages and population-based preventive interventions over a 10-year period is Ksh81.7 billion, or Ksh1,712 per capita, with a return on investment over the same period of Ksh161.6 billion.

“However, there is no evidence that the budget allocation to the mental health sector has improved from 0.01 percent (15 cents) of the national health budget to the proposed Ksh250 per capita. The Commission is concerned that this will have a negative impact on access to mental health services, including early diagnosis, treatment and care for those most in need of mental health services”.

The KNCHR called for the strengthening of mental health systems and improved access to community-based mental health services to respond to the neediest and most vulnerable groups, such as persons with disabilities, older persons, intersex persons, victims of sexual and gender-based violence and other victims of crime. They also warn that human rights violations have a huge negative impact on people's mental health.

“For example, discrimination, poverty, limited access to social protection measures and lack of quality health services exacerbate social and economic barriers, leading to, inter alia, stress and anxiety.”