I recently saw a crazy woman. She was standing beside the road in a shanty town called Banana Hill, jerking sporadically while frantically arguing with the frigid morning air. At least, I assume that she was arguing. From behind windows of a passing car, I could barely hear the cold, damp world outside.
Mental health is a serious issue in Kenya. When humans don’t show extreme signs of starvation, it is easier to believe that poverty or lifestyle hasn’t impacted them in a major, life-threatening way. Depending on one’s personal opinions, he or she credits Kenyans who live in destitute conditions with either intense tolerance or ingrained ignorance. However, every human has a breaking point, especially a mental one. In Kenya, no one wants to validate that mental breaking point.
According to Basic Needs, Basic Rights, a global NGO that supports those with mental health problems, “only a third of the 75 psychiatrists in the country for a population of 38 million work in the public sector.” The average Kenyan with mental health problems, like the woman I saw on the side of the street, cannot afford to pay the almost one-hundred-dollar fee for a session with a private psychiatrist. Within Kenya, there are only fourteen mental health hospitals with a fifteen to twenty-five bed capacity for each hospital. Kenya only has thirty-three psychiatrists and four hundred twenty-seven nurses that are qualified to take care of the mentally impaired. This shows the lack of specialty in the mental health area.
Kenya is in the top global percentile for suicide rates, a fact which is little known in comparison to the country’s other problems. Kenya has a higher suicide rate than the USA, which often garners attention for suicide due to the highly publicized nature of mental illness on sites such as Tumblr. Growing up in a Western community, mental illness, while a sensitive topic, is definitely validated.
Kenyan men that have taken to living on the streets are often suffering from substance abuse disorder especially in the form of alcohol. Drinking is a major form of “entertainment” for many Kenyans. Women in this country, if they are on the edge of mental instability, usually suffer from depression due to poverty and stress placed on them by responsibilities and family.
As Kenya develops, the crisis of mental health slowly emerges from the water. On 17 May 2016, Kenya launched its first mental health policy, which its dedicated toward developing more specialists and hospitals in treating mental illnesses. Mr. Cleopa Mailu, the Health Cabinet’s Secretary of Kenya said, “We have not been in a vacuum, but the policy was necessary to guide how laws are enacted as well identifying gaps in the sector.” With this policy enacted, the mental health care of the average Kenyan will definitely improve.
The policy is definitely a good start in the metal health care ministry. Now – maybe – the woman beside the street will no longer be arguing with the air, but talking to a person trained to help her. Maybe she won’t be wandering beside the road, but laying on a bed in a hospital, safe in the care of nurses and doctors.