Society

Address stigma hampering mental health wellness

mental wellness

Summary

  • In low and middle-income nations, 75 to 95 percent of people with mental health conditions have no access to the right care at all.
  • In Kenya, the Ministry of Health estimates that one in every four Kenyans (about 11.5 million people) live with a mental health condition.
  • Depression is among the most common mental illnesses globally, affecting more than 1.9 million people in Kenya alone.

Access to mental healthcare remains unequal, according to the World Federation for Mental Health. In low and middle-income nations, 75 to 95 percent of people with mental health conditions have no access to the right care at all.

This is further compounded by the fact that mental health, especially in the African context, is a subject often discussed in hushed tones due to the stigma and discrimination attached to it.

In Kenya, the Ministry of Health estimates that one in every four Kenyans (about 11.5 million people) live with a mental health condition.

Various papers presented at the first Annual Moral Injury Symposium held under the auspices of the Nairobi Hospital in 2019 pointed out that a good number of doctors and other healthcare providers are also battling mental illness, further compounding interventions that are being put in place.

Depression is among the most common mental illnesses globally, affecting more than 1.9 million people in Kenya alone.

In the past decade, cases of suicide in the country have risen at an alarming rate of 58 percent with data showing that more men are likely to die through suicide than women.

They could probably be depressed, with an Infotrak research commissioned in 2020 at the height of the covid-19 pandemic showing that 81 percent of the population felt anxious and stressed about what was happening.

The research shows that 61 percent of Kenyans feel lonely, 52 percent helpless and 33 percent angry.

It does not help matters that most African governments spend less than 1 percent of their allocated health budget on mental illness.

Due to the lack of investment in related services, 85 percent of people suffering from depression on the continent have no access to an effective treatment.

According to World Psychiatry, the official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), most people with serious mental illness are challenged doubly. On one hand, they struggle with the symptoms and disabilities that result from the disease.

On the other, they are challenged by the stereotypes and prejudice that result from misconceptions about mental illness.

As a result of both, people with mental illness are robbed of the opportunities that define a quality life: good jobs, safe housing, satisfactory healthcare, and general social inclusion.

Many studies have found that media and the entertainment industry play a key role in shaping public opinions about mental health and illness. People with mental health conditions are often depicted as dangerous, violent and unpredictable.

News stories that sensationalise violent acts by a person alleged to have a mental health condition are typically featured as headline news; while there are fewer articles that feature stories of recovery or positive news concerning similar individuals.

Entertainment frequently features negative images and stereotypes about mental health conditions, and these portrayals have been strongly linked to the development of fears and misunderstanding.

Notably, stigma is a significant barrier for patients seeking mental healthcare. Other barriers include lack of knowledge about mental healthcare, inability to recognise symptoms in oneself, and inability to identify adequate healthcare resources for mental health.

The Africa Mental Health Foundation (AMHF) indicates that stigma is widespread, and this may contribute to poorer outcomes in mentally ill patients. This is concurred by a study published on SpringerLink.

According to the study titled Barriers to Treatment as a Hindrance to Health and Wellbeing of Individuals with Mental Illnesses in Africa: A Systematic Review, attitudinal barriers were most prevalent; infrastructural barriers were least discussed.

Policy and infrastructural implementations would mitigate interconnected barriers and improve health and wellbeing within Africa.

Consequently, breaking stigma is important as it has a direct positive impact on improving treatment seeking behaviour. This is especially paramount because with the right treatment and care, mental illnesses are treatable and recovery is possible.

Often, people will speak with a friend, family member or faith leader before they will talk to a mental health professional.

Therefore, these initial points of contact should be accommodating and provide the right support, information and guidance free of stigma and prejudice.

But for this to happen, people in our society need to improve their knowledge around mental health, as this has a direct correlation in their attitudes and intended behaviours towards people with mental health conditions.

Society also needs to be cognisant of the words used to reference mental health issues as they significantly influence stereotypes and attitudes.

The World Health Organisation, concurs that challenging the stigma associated with mental illness takes understanding, education and a closer look at our own attitudes toward mental health.

Fear and misunderstanding often lead to prejudice against people with mental illness and addictions, even among service providers. It is one of the main reasons why many people don't consider it a real health issue.

This prejudice and discrimination lead to feelings of hopelessness and shame in those struggling to cope with their situation, creating a serious barrier to diagnosis and treatment.

Notably, the Kenya Mental Health Action Plan 2021-2025 proposes social contact as one of the most effective approaches to tackle stigma and discrimination.

The presence of specific facilitating factors (equal status, common goals, cooperation and friendship potential) reduces stigma, increases future willingness to disclose a mental health problem and promotes behaviours associated with anti-stigma campaign engagement.