World Health Organization studies ranks Kenya fourth in Africa with the most number of mental health cases, with 1.9 million people, 4.4% of the population suffering from depression.

In June 2020, the government of Kenya declared a mental health emergency after a recommendation by mental-health task force.

Climate change is identified as a contributing factor to mental illness, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder.

In December 2019 the Kenyan government established a task force on mental health. In the review of its findings, of all medical patients at least 25% of outpatients and 40% of inpatients suffer from a mental illness. 

Extreme viral weather events such as floods, droughts, and landslides brought about by climate changes are happening faster than the community’s ability to recover from previous natural disasters.

Heavy rainfall experienced in 2019 and 2020 amplified the swelling of Lake Victoria in nyanza and western counties, displacing more than 5,000 people in Migori County alone.

Mzee Julius Owino from Migori County said since the floods hit Nyatike Sub County in the year 2019, her two grandchildren frequently wake up screaming at night.

Over the years, their school grades, and ability to respond to the teacher’s questions have worsened.

“Before the flooding, they would sleep soundly uninterrupted at night. We have gone to the hospitals seeking professional help, but the medics say the children are not sick. As parents, we do not know what to do next. We are not able to seek help beyond this village,” said Mzee Owino.

“Homes, schools, roads, health centres, and farmlands were submerged. As a result, 150 households end up living in tents and abandoned airstrip while thousands of others depend on strangers, relatives, and friends for shelter” he added.

According to the United Nations office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs, in November 2019 at least 120 people died and 18,000 were displaced by floods and landslides in Kenya.

Boniface Chitayi, a consultant psychiatrist with the ministry of health and president of the Kenyan psychiatrist association said that, “Mental health issues are often forgotten amid the other life-threatening disasters like coronavirus, storms, droughts, and floods,”

He added that, stressful events leading to loss of property, loved ones, job loss, and forced migration, tend to cause higher rates of depression, and anxiety.

Such events can trigger most serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia, substance use and abuse as a way of coping with increased stress.

Most developing countries, Kenya included, do not have a separate budget for mental health. For instance, mental disorders account for at least 13% of all diseases but its allocation has been 0.1% of the entire budget. 

Counties in Kenya are not fully sensitized about mental health and their role. For instance, in Kenya, out of 47 counties, only about 22 offer mental health services.

As a result, access to mental health services is a constraint for most Kenyans who either cannot afford or travel long distances in search of assistance. Also most mental health cases are often misdiagnosed due to lack of specialists.

As temperatures rises due to climate change, and so is the rising of mental illnesses cases. Kenya needs a mental health budget that is separate from the overall health budget whose percentage reflects the burden of mental health illness in our country.

By Treeza Auma

Treeza Auma is a Digital Content Producer and founder of KTMN She is also Television journalist at Kenya News Agency and Leadership Accelerator at Women in News.

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