Mental Health Pose a Major Threat to Caregivers of PWDs

It is always a dream come true to most mothers giving birth to new lives but a burdensome journey to raising a child with disability.

Mental health distress is increasingly emerging as a major challenge amongst the caregivers of Persons with Disability (PWD) due to social, physical and economical involvement.

Several cases of suicide especially among the male gender across the world have been linked to mental health problems, which form a part of the stability of human health.

While on the female gender, mental health weights as much from the first consideration of being attached to their children from conception through the pregnancy journey to raising a newborn.

A case study of mental health status across the country reveals that Kilifi is among the counties that have recorded high numbers of mental health problems.

According to Kilifi County’s health department, the recorded cases of mental illness have doubled in the last four years.

2,080 cases of mental illnesses were recorded in 2019, increasing to 4916 two years later in 2021. The number slightly reduced to 4,642 in 2022 when the last statistics were recorded.

The cases include those of parents raising children with disabilities since the health department has not segregated specific data.

Despite every parent’s wish to have a healthy baby at birth, some parents do not meet their wishes bearing babies without some body organs or with various skin defects among other complications.

Many parents walk a rough path raising their children with disabilities due to the heavy burden of a full time responsibility of care socially and financially.

Meet a 40 year-old Isabella Wanjiku, a mother of five children who narrates her tough motherhood journey with her last-born child born with Down syndrome.

Her son bears a condition in which after feeding, the food exists through all the open organs of his head like the ear and nose.

Wanjiku narrates her sad episodes of motherhood saying that the hospital has become her second home since her child often chocks, suffocates and develops breathing complications during feeding.

“I got detached from friends and relatives since I didn’t want to be questioned about this baby that seemed to be different from the others. Even though I accepted and devoted to give my baby my love and care, it has been a very stressful journey”, Wanjiku said.

“I was so shocked on the day I gave birth to this baby. My wish like any other mother’s had been to breastfeed my baby after giving birth to him only to be told by the doctor that my baby had down syndrome and cleft lip palate, you could even see the nose from inside”, She said.

Wanjiku is just one in a fraction of many mothers who are mentally distressed by caring for a child with disability in the county and beyond.

Josephine (not her real name), a middle-aged mother of a five year-old baby is not left out in fighting mental health instability brought about by taking care of her son born with various disabilities.

Her son was born with several of his organs not functioning, which extended to the brain.

Josephine became pregnant of her son while still undertaking her studies at Pwani University, a journey she narrates to have been hectic than she could ever imagine.

“I went through rejection, trauma and depression after giving birth to my son. People judged me saying a lot of unnecessary false things like I tried to abort or misused family planning and that’s why my baby came out this way”, Josephine said.

“I had to defer my studies to another year in order to take care of my baby alone given that people detached themselves from me and stopped associating with me. It has been the toughest phase of my life but I still thank God for keeping my son alive”, She added.

The thorn in the flesh part of raising children with disability is the financial bit, which Josephine confirms how physiotherapy sessions in the hospital dried her pockets out.

The parents called upon the government and Civil Society Organizations to help caregivers of PWDs with financial support and counselling sessions in order to reduce the cases of mental problems amongst them.

According to the Kilifi County’s primary health focal person Job Gayo, the government has established clinics for children with various disabilities which he explained that operates in accordance to the doctors directives.

Gayo urged the caregivers of PWDs in Kilifi to enroll them on the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) scheme in order to reduce the costs of medical services in the hospitals.

He explained that the issue of stigma in the community is a major challenge affecting the main characters (PWDs and their caregivers), urging the community to offer support by embracing them.

“It starts by the parents accepting the child as one of their own to the community embracing  the child as a human being who also has rights”, Gayo said.

Pwani School for the Mentally Handicapped head teacher Lucy Karegi told the media that the school has come up with clinical class programs involving parents whereby they invite mentors to equip the caregivers with skills to take care of their children with disabilities at home, as the teachers do so in the school.

“The gap we have is that most caregivers are not well trained and SNE compliant, we request that all the caregivers of children with disabilities undergo short courses on caring for special needs children in order to reduce the cases of mental issues”, she said.

She urged the government and organizations implementing projects concerning PWDs to look into the issue of handling the mental problems amongst the caregivers, which she acknowledged to be on the rise.

Due to the low investment in mental health services and the costs associated with the care of these children, each doctor in Africa attends to 500,000 patients, which is 100 times more than the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Research by the WHO shows that mental health problems contribute to 11 percent of the risk factors related to suicide cases globally.

In Kenya, the harsh living conditions, drought and the post effects of COVID -19 pandemic are some of the factors researched to have contributed to the increase in the numbers of mental illnesses.

While in Africa, approximately 11 people per 100,000 die by suicide every year in the continent above the global average of nine per 100, 000 people.


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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