Primary health Bill has a gap: Mental health

By Sarah Nyakio

As we approach World Mental Health Day, it is essential to recognize that mental health is a universal human right. However, in Kenya, like many other countries, there are significant challenges in addressing the mental health needs of its citizens.
Kenya is home to a burgeoning young population, with over 70% of its citizens aged below 30 years. While the youth represent the country’s future, they are also bearing the brunt of mental health challenges. Economic uncertainties, unemployment, and the pressures of modern life have created a perfect storm for mental health issues to flourish among young Kenyans.

One of the most prevalent problems is depression and anxiety. Academic pressure, societal expectations, and the fear of unemployment have driven many young people into a state of perpetual stress. This chronic stress has culminated in severe mental health disorders. Unfortunately, there is a glaring lack of accessible mental health services tailored to the needs of young Kenyans.
One of the biggest hurdles to accessing mental health is that most institutions are concentrated in urban areas, leaving those in rural and remote regions without access to necessary care. This urban-rural disparity in mental health services exacerbates existing inequalities and leaves a significant portion of the population without essential support.

Even for those fortunate enough to access mental health services, the prohibitive cost can be a significant barrier. Mental health care often requires continuous treatment and medication, which can quickly become expensive. Additionally, many insurance policies in Kenya do not adequately cover mental health, leaving individuals and families to bear the financial burden.
The cost of mental health care extends beyond medical bills. The societal stigma surrounding mental health has created a culture of secrecy, making it challenging for individuals to open up about their struggles. This secrecy has resulted in delayed treatment, causing conditions to worsen and increasing the overall cost of care.

As we commemorate World Mental Health Day, it is imperative that Kenya and the international community take concrete steps to address these pressing issues. Mental health should not be a privilege for a select few; it is a universal human right that must be upheld. Kenya must invest in the expansion of mental health institutions and services, particularly in rural areas.

To encourage individuals to seek help, we must work together to combat the stigma surrounding mental health. Public awareness campaigns and education programs can help dispel myths and foster a more understanding society. The government and insurance providers should work towards making mental health care more affordable. This includes ensuring that insurance policies cover mental health services adequately and reducing the financial burden on individuals and families.
Furthermore, it is imperative that mental health services be included in the NHIF Primary Healthcare Fund. By incorporating mental health into the national healthcare framework, Kenya can ensure that mental health care is not only accessible but also affordable for all citizens. This step is essential in recognizing mental health as an integral part of overall well-being and a fundamental human right.

On World Mental Health Day, let us remember that mental health is a universal human right that knows no boundaries. It affects the young and old, the rich and poor, and every profession. In Kenya, the mental health crisis among young people is a stark reminder of the urgent need for change. By increasing access to mental health services, reducing stigma, and making care affordable, we can take meaningful steps towards ensuring that every Kenyan has the opportunity to lead a mentally healthy
life. It is not just a matter of policy; it is a matter of human rights and dignity.

This article was first published on the Daily Nation