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Health & Fitness

Integrate mental wellness into universal healthcare

Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital staff and the public during the World Mental Health Day in 2016. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NMG
Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital staff and the public during the World Mental Health Day in 2016. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NMG 

As the Kenyan society evolves and transitions towards a developed nation’s, a shifting mental health epidemiology pattern is being noted. Its acceleration by a formalising economy, socio-cultural changes and weakening traditional “support values” are all contributing to higher incidents of mental health disorder.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates 25 per cent of the world’s population to be affected by a mental or neurological condition. The latter, though not directly a mental illness, is associated with higher risk of developing the former.

Citing WHO data, Mary Wahome from Reason to Hope, a non-profit organisation advocating mental health service improvement, says that globally about 10 per cent of the population at any given time suffer from a mental disorder and that 20 per cent or thereabouts of all primary health care professional visits have a component of mental disorders.

This coupled with substance abuse and psychological effects of chronic diseases, makeup 15 per cent of Disability-Adjusted Life Years, a measure of productive man-hours lost due to illnesses.

She says good mental health is a state of well-being where individuals recognise and realise their abilities, cope with stresses of life, work productively and fruitfully while also contributing to their communities. This must also include one’s emotions, cognition, social functioning and coherence.

Though local data on the prevalence of mental health conditions is not readily available, doctors are starting to collect it. Looking at our demographics, the rates may get higher especially amongst the youth and elderly groups. The mid-aged workers are also not left out as they grapple with achieving work-life-family balance, taxing daily commutes, substance abuse and addictive disorders. The last two, in particular, are emerging threats.

Reason to Hope’s experience shows that the most frequent diagnosis of mental illnesses made in general hospital settings is depression, substance abuse, stress and anxiety disorders. By their very aetiology, mental disorders increase the risk of getting ill from other diseases such as HIV, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and vice-versa. They also pose risk for unintentional and intentional injury to self and the public.

Sadly there seems to be a huge deficit in terms of personnel and resources available to tackle mental health disorders. Psychiatrists, psychologist and counsellors are very few and not integrated into routine hospital setups. This mismatch Ms Wahome says is unfortunate since the WHO and the Ministry of Health all acknowledge mental health as a critical and equal component to the physical and social aspects of being “healthy”.

From her observations, people living with serious mental illness are at higher risk of experiencing a wide range of chronic physical conditions. Conversely, people living with chronic physical health conditions are at higher risks of depression and anxiety.

Her recommendation is that mental health services be integrated into healthcare and not left out.

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