Mental Health as Public Health

Mental health remains one of the most neglected areas of public health, especially in low- and middle-income countries such as Kenya, officials said in late August.

While marking World Mental Health Day on 27th August, the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that more than 75 percent of people with mental, neurological and substance use disorders receive no treatment for their condition. Additionally, the organization indicated that stigma, discrimination, punitive legislation and human rights abuses are still widespread. WHO added that the outbreak of the coronavirus has worsened the access of mental health services, which were already very limited prior to the pandemic.

«The limited access to quality, affordable mental health care in the world before the pandemic, and particularly in humanitarian emergencies and conflict settings has been further diminished due to COVID-19 as the pandemic has disrupted health services around the world»

What’s behind the deceleration of the services?

Having COVID-19 as well as the risk of someone contracting it in long-stay facilities such as care homes and psychiatric institutions are among the leading reasons as to why access to mental health facilities has reduced during the pandemic.

Additionally, barriers to meeting people face-to-face; mental health staff being infected with the virus; and the closing of mental health facilities to convert them into care facilities for people with COVID-19 are among other factors.

Various drugs and their packaging are displayed on a table

More than 75 percent of people with mental, neurological and substance use disorders receive no treatment for their condition. (Photo: Pixabay)

What should be done?

The organization called for a massive scale-up in investment in mental health.

“World Mental Health Day is an opportunity for the world to come together and begin redressing the historic neglect of mental health,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization.

“We are already seeing the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on people’s mental well-being and this is just the beginning. Unless we make serious commitments to scale up investment in mental health right now, the health, social and economic consequences will be far-reaching.”

Official data reveals that close to 1 billion people worldwide are living with a mental disorder, 3 million people die every year from the harmful use of alcohol and one person dies every 40 seconds by suicide. In Kenya, the Ministry of Health estimates that one in every 10 people in Kenya suffers from a common mental disorder. The number increases to one in every four people, among patients attending routine outpatient services.

Margaret Njuguna