Openness Kenya needs in treating mental illness as suicide rate rises


Low and middle-income countries account for 79 percent of suicides worldwide. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

At the beginning of May, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics gave a report card on how Kenyans had performed both economically and socially in 2022.

However, in the statistics, there was one number directly missing; the number of suicides in 2022.

May being the Mental Health Awareness Month it was important to take stock of mental illness treatment.

Suicide is an indication of an untreated mental illness. Studies indicate that half of the people with depression end up dying by suicide.

Tracing the numbers since 2011, the Suicide rate doubled over this period to 658 in 2021 compared with 310 in 2011. These rising numbers are asking the country to do more to treat mental illness.

A few years back people used to think that a mentally ill person could be that “mad man or woman”.

In our African setting, mental illness is considered to have occurred as a result of a curse or an evil spirit. That is not the case.

Many people with mental illnesses do not even know they have a mental illness.

Excessive appetite

If suicide is the end of the journey in mental illness, there are many signs along the road such as disturbances in sleep, excessive or reduced appetite and excessive intake of alcohol.

At the workplace it could be a lack of concentration, running behind schedule or general objective complaints from managers or bosses of a slack in output.

Many people are not seeking treatment and yet they need the treatment.

Recognising mental health as a disease and screening can help fight the stigma.

It was a major step when the government set up psychological counselling services in all counties to help people deal with the stress associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.

One of the key efforts to continue treating mental illness is ensuring that counselling psychologists are easily accessible in health care facilities and also in workplaces.

That would be a step in the right direction as mental illness will start being viewed as any other disease with symptoms and cures.