KENYA – Kenya has launched a new mental health plan that will provide the framework to implement the recommendations from the mental health policy and taskforce report that was released in 2019.

Speaking during the launch, the Chief Administrative Secretary at the Ministry of Health Dr. Mercy Mwangangi, on behalf of the Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe, said that the Kenya Mental Health Action Plan is targeting to improve mental health management in the country, considering that it remains an integral pillar in Kenya’s health system and social-economic development. 

According to the Ministry, Kenya has a high burden of mental illness due to ill health, psychosocial disability and premature mortality, with huge gaps in access to care. Majority of Kenyans associate mental health and mental illness with negative narratives leading to low focus on the importance and benefits of mental health and wellbeing.

Estimates show that one in every 10 Kenyan suffers from a common mental disorder, and sadly, the number increases to one in every four people among patients attending routine outpatient services.

Depression and anxiety disorders are the leading mental illnesses diagnosed in Kenya, followed by substance use disorders, with alcohol contributing to the largest burden of substance use related illnesses in the country, especially in the 18-29-year-old age group.

Way forward on mental health

The Kenya Mental Health Action Plan 2021-2025, provides the framework for the country’s mental health transformational journey over the next five years. 

“For us to achieve this dream, we must put concerted efforts and investment in implementing strategic actions and targets as set out in the plan,” said Dr. Mwangangi. President Uhuru Kenyatta has made it a key government agenda, committing to invest and implement activities towards uplifting the mental health and wellbeing of all Kenyans.

According to the Ministry, the Mental Health Action Plan will provide a framework for both national and county governments as well as stakeholders to implement the Mental Health Policy and Taskforce recommendations through strategic actions with specified targets and indicators.

The plan aims to strengthen effective leadership and governance in mental health in the country. It will also strengthen mental health systems and implement programmes meant to promote mental health. The CAS added that it will ensure access to comprehensive, integrated and high-quality mental health services at all levels.

Dr. Mwangangi said that to achieve its objectives, county governments are expected to play a critical role, as most health services and programs remain devolved functions. The implementation will also call for multi-sectoral partnerships and collaboration between various Ministries, State Departments and Agencies, she added.

The plan seeks to decentralize mental health services and programmes to primary health care at the community level across the country. The Ministry adds that its implementation will be guided by evidence-based interventions, inclusivity, equity, human rights, multisectoral and life course approaches.

To ensure inclusivity; people with lived experiences, caregivers and their organisations will participate in the design, implementation and evaluation of the plan’s set programmes.

Some of the activities as per the plan include enhancing mental health literacy, addressing the determinants of mental health and reduction of risk factors. Other strategic actions are geared towards reorganising, transforming and increasing coverage of services by establishing affordable services closer to communities, ensuring comprehensive quality care and developing person centred services. 

Through the plan, mental health and psychosocial support will be integrated in the emergency and humanitarian response especially in the response to COVID-19 pandemic as well as the long-term recovery strategy.

Implement task force recommendations

The launch of the plan gets into gear some of the recommendations of the Taskforce on Mental Health that was inaugurated in December 2019, whose members comprised of a multi sectoral team from the Ministry of Health, and other agencies under the leadership of Dr. Frank Njenga.

Among the taskforce recommendations include a proposal that mental illness should be declared a National Emergency of epidemic proportions, to prioritize mental health as a priority public health and socioeconomic agenda.

It also recommended the establishment of a mental health commission and happiness to advise, coordinate and continuously monitor the status of mental health, and report on the annual National Happiness Index.

“The rising number of mental health related cases in the country, such as depression, and other mental illnesses, some of which ended up in suicide cases, have been a concern to the Government,” said Cabinet for Health Mutahi Kagwe, when he received the report.