Losses of income and employment are not merely abstract figures on financial statements and company reports, they often translate into real-life struggles, with families forced to confront the stark reality of diminishing resources and shrinking opportunities.
In such times, the profound impact on mental health is akin to a silent epidemic, with stress, anxiety, and depression becoming unwelcome companions in hundreds of homes.
The latest update by the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) states that the country lost 70,000 jobs in the formal private sector between October 2022 and November 2023. Even more startling is the federation’s note that every four out of 10 employers are planning to trim their workforce, citing the tough operating environment in the country.
As family financial pillars crumble, it becomes increasingly evident that the reverberations of economic turmoil extend far beyond balance sheets and market indices; seeping into the recesses of people’s minds, that triggering mental health challenges that can be nothing short of catastrophic.
The nexus between financial crises and mental health is an intricate web, woven by the threads of uncertainty, anxiety, and the relentless pressure to navigate an uncharted terrain. According to the World Health Organisation, suicide often occurs impulsively during moments of crisis when the ability to cope with stress breaks down.
Contributing factors include financial issues, relationship breakdowns, and chronic pain or illness. Notably, 77 percent of suicides take place in low and middle-income countries, including Kenya.
Recent reports from 2022 reveal a concerning rise in suicide cases in Kenya, with approximately 500 individuals taking their own lives within a span of three months. The age range of those affected is alarming, with the youngest being a nine-year-old and the oldest, being 76.
Despite the escalating mental health crisis, Kenya has criminalised suicide under Chapter 63, Section 226 of the penal code. This legal provision deems any attempt at suicide a misdemeanour, subjecting the individual to a potential penalty of up to two years in prison, a fine, or both.
On a national scale, having accessible healthcare services such as the Brain and Mind Institute, along with progressive attitudes toward mental health, has been demonstrated to address mental health issues and reduce cases of suicide.
The institute is a newly established unit that spans multiple campuses within the Aga Khan University network. It serves as a nexus, linking diverse academic entities and fostering collaborative research, education, and clinical programs in mental health and neurosciences.
During times of concern about the potential loss of income or job, establishing connections with individuals facing similar challenges—whether through employee assistance programmes, unions, groups, chamas, or similar social teams—provides a sense of solidarity, which is beneficial for mental health. This networking approach not only alleviates the feeling of isolation but also serves as a valuable means of resource-sharing.
The writer is the CEO of Maudhui House, a public affairs consultancy [email protected]