President Uhuru Kenyatta, on June 21st 2022, signed into law the Mental Health Bill that seeks to protect persons with mental health conditions.
The approval of the Bill, sponsored by nominated Senator Sylvia Kasanga, follows its unanimous passing by members of the Senate on June 8, bringing to an end more than four years of the parliamentary process.
The law seeks to streamline mental health in the country, focusing on prevention and reducing the impact of related disorders. It also seeks to govern the recovery, reintegration, and the safeguarding of rights of persons with mental illnesses.
In strengthening and safeguarding the rights of persons with mental illnesses, the legislation accords authority to specific persons to take a mentally ill person being mistreated or neglected into protective custody. Among those given this authority are chiefs, police officers in the rank of Inspector and above, and officers commanding stations.
The law also allows these officers to take a mentally ill person into protective custody if he acts or is likely to act in a manner that goes against public decency.
Once in protective custody, the mentally ill person is to be taken to a hospital within 24 hours and admitted for not more than 72 hours, during which psychiatric examination is to be carried out and a treatment plan developed.
However, the law allows for the emergency admission and treatment of mentally ill people if they are a danger to themselves or others.
The signing of the Bill into law comes amid increased concerns over the mental health burden in the country, which the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated.
According to the Taskforce on Mental Health formed by President Kenyatta in 2019, one in every ten people have a common mental disorder, with depression and anxiety disorders being the most commonly diagnosed, followed by substance abuse disorders.
In its findings, the Taskforce tasked with the responsibility of studying the status of mental health in the country recommended that “mental illness should be declared a National Emergency of epidemic proportions, to prioritize mental health as a priority public health and socioeconomic agenda.”
Speaking on June 14, during the groundbreaking ceremony to construct the ultra-modern Kenya International Mental Wellness hospital in Ngong, Kajiado County, the President called on Kenyans to support persons with mental disorders.
“Let us eliminate the stigma around mental health by actively supporting those in mental distress through offering a helping hand and an understanding shoulder to lean on," he said, noting that the setting up of the mental referral facility is in line with the recommendations of the Taskforce.
President Kenyatta signed the Bill into law four days after the World Health Organization (WHO) released the World Mental Health Report, which seeks to transform mental health for the global population.
With the Mental Health Bill now signed into law, Senator Kasanga says it's time to shift gears towards sensitizing the population about the legislation.