Yesterday marked World Mental Health Awareness Day 2021. The day is a commemoration of the need to educate and rally people behind mental health awareness and tackling mental health issues. The overarching mental health problems include depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other mental health illnesses. Mental health issues are an epidemic, especially now that the world is undergoing the current COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing financial and social crises.
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased mental health woes several-fold, owing to the strains it has caused on the lives of many and their psychological wellbeing. World Mental Health Awareness Day held on the 10th of September is a day to create awareness and seek solutions and mitigations to mental health issues and the health risks they pose, chief among them suicide.
A Growing Epidemic
Depression, in particular, has become a mental health epidemic as it has exacerbated and caused numerous suicides. According to statistics, over 800,000 people commit suicide every year globally. A huge number of these people are those who have suffered depression that has gone untreated. Mental health illnesses are further complicated by the stigma attached to them. Those ailing or suffering from mental health illnesses are often discarded and discriminated against by society, much to the detriment of their wellbeing including the psychological wellbeing.
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In Kenya, the situation is particularly bad with statistics indicating that 500 people committed suicide between January and June 2021. Of these, the youngest was just 9 years old, with the oldest 76 years of age. Men are particularly at risk, with the suicide rate among men doubling that of women. World Mental Health Awareness Day is a day to educate ourselves and others on mental health issues, increase awareness and fight against social stigma.
Suicide Rates on the Rise
According to the World Bank, from 2000-2019, the current suicide mortality rate in Kenya stands at 6.1 per every 100,000 people. Globally Lesotho tops with a 72.4 per 100,000 suicide mortality rate, with Grenada with the lowest at 0.7. Regionally, North America tops with a 15.7 mortality rate with the Middle East and North Africa with the lowest at 4.3.
The global average is at 9.2. In economic terms, High-Income countries are most affected with a rate of 13.4, and Low-Income countries with the lowest at 6.1 deaths per 100,000 people. Suicide is currently the fourth-leading cause of death among 15 – 29-year-olds. Mental health illnesses are increasingly becoming an epidemic and World Mental Health Awareness Day reminds us to keep fighting against social stigma and mental health issues.
Mental Health Illness in Kenya
The suicide epidemic has been particularly bad over the last decade with 2017 topping the highest number of suicides due to depression and mental health issues in Kenya. 2017 saw over 400 deaths in Kenya as a result of suicide that could be linked to depression or other mental health illnesses or ailments. As a response, the Kenyan government through the Ministry of Health has instigated measures to ensure that suicide prevention is bolstered. Other nations have taken an approach that entails decriminalizing suicide, with others putting in place mental health institutions and facilitation, and suicide prevention programs.
Between 2015-2018, 1,442 people attempted suicide in Kenya. The Ministry of Health in Kenya indicates that over the last six months, Kenya has lost an average of 4 people to suicide each day. This number is jarring as most suicides can be prevented through psychiatric help and treatment for particular mental health illnesses such as depression.
Mitigating Mental Health Illness
The Kenyan government has been putting in place measures to ensure increased mental health facilitation, including the setting up of the Mental Health taskforce and the renovation of Mathare Hospital, Kenya’s leading mental health institution. Mental health is a particularly complex issue as there are ethical concerns with approaches and mitigations such as institutionalization and the way they are conducted or carried out. There is also the issue of whether it is ethically right to institutionalize someone suffering mental health problems against their will or without their consent. In most instances, patients are not aware that they are ailing and may sometimes lack the judgment or capability to make sound judgments on the mental health treatments and approaches that would be best for them.
Mental Health Awareness
Even with growing concerns over mental health issues, there is consensus that it is a growing epidemic and a lot needs to be done to ensure that mental health ailments are treated and consequently, suicides prevented. Depression and other mental health problems are treatable and can impact anyone. We are all susceptible to mental health disorders or ailments and anyone can be affected. Some of the mental health issues can also be a result of genetic predisposition and are not necessarily caused by trauma or difficulties faced in life. As such, on World Mental Health Day and every day, it is upon every one of us to do all we can to educate ourselves and others on mental health illnesses, how they can be prevented, treated, and altogether mitigated.