KENYA – New healthcare milestone as Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta has signed the Mental Health Act 2022 into law after the Kenyan Senate unanimously passed the Mental Health Amendment Bill on June 21st 2022.
The Mental Health Act is signed into law at a time when the Government of Kenya is being urged to declare mental health a national emergency as cases of various mental health conditions are on the rise in the country and beyond.
Survivors of sexual violence are entitled to access affordable mental health services in different health facilities under the new law and the Act enumerates the rights of persons with mental illness including the right to protection from sexual exploitation.
The Act will ensure that all persons with mental health needs receive the highest attainable standard of care in line with the Kenyan Constitution while mandating both the national and county governments to provide the necessary resources for the provision of the mental health care and treatment.
Gender-based violence has profound and long-lasting impacts on survivors’ mental health such as anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Furthermore, the Mental Health Amendment Act amends the previous legislation entitled Mental Health Act, Cap 248 to align the country’s mental health laws with the provisions of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010 and the Health Act, 2017.
Distinguished human rights organizations have lauded the landmark decision to inaugurate the new Mental Health Amendment Act in Kenya that will be instrumental in addressing the growing mental health burden in the country.
The human rights organizations acknowledged Hon. Senator Sylvia Kasanga who sponsored the Mental Health Amendment Bill in Senate and championed its enactment into law, adding that the impacts of the new law will be determined by its implementation by the Kenyan government.
The notable organizations called on the national and county governments to ensure dissemination of the Mental Health Act across the country while creating awareness of the provisions in the Act among healthcare providers and the populace at large.
The human rights organizations advised the national and county governments to put in place mechanisms including a strategy and plan of action and policies to promote the realization of the rights of persons with mental illness.
The charitable societies urged county governments to allocate funds necessary for the provision of mental health care in the county budgets while encouraging the county governments to expedite the establishment of county mental health councils.
The organizations further encouraged coordination, pooling of resources and implementation by civil society organizations along with continuation of civil society partnership with relevant state actors to ensure that the Mental Health Act is implemented for the benefit of all citizens.
The 11 civil right groups advocating for the right to be free from all forms of sexual and gender-based violence include Centre for Rights Education and Awareness, Collaborative Centre for Gender Development, Coalition Action for Preventive Mental Health, Gay Trust Kenya and Grace Agenda.
Other human rights organizations that ceremoniously welcomed the Mental Health Act 2022 include Health Rights Advocacy Forum, Health Right Kenya, Wangu Kanja Foundation, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), Survivors of Sexual Violence in Kenya, Shining Hope for Communities.
“Mental health challenges have been exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has also highlighted the need to prioritize mental health and wellbeing,” Physicians for Human Rights said in a statement.
PHR Kenya Office Head Naitore Nyamu-Mathenge emphasized that the Mental Health Act is a landmark development for health, wellbeing, and human rights in Kenya, adding that the legislation can transform how people in Kenya access comprehensive mental health services if implemented effectively.
Physicians for Human Rights explained that there is an increase in cases of sexual and gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that tackling domestic violence during the pandemic highlighted the need for mental health care such as trauma informed, survivor-centered services.
The New York-based advocacy organization further stressed that the right to the highest attainable standard of health including mental health is enshrined in the Constitution of Kenya and recognized by international human rights law.
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