News from around the world is filled with horrific events of family members, neighbours and friends harming one another. These cases pose a major question of what exactly is going on in our society. Is it a case of anger or worse still manifestation of an underlying mental health disorder? Regardless of what the answer may be, a strong connection has been identified between mental health disorders and the gory murders more so in a family set up.
What exactly is Mental Health? Often when the topic of mental health comes up in Kenya, several people only relate it to cases in Mathare Mental Hospital. Or homeless people that roam about the streets all dirtied up and chasing after the ‘sane’ and ‘civilized’ population.
Mental health has been linked to a spiritual problem with the majority of the people viewing it as a result of bewitchment. This ideology has contributed to the stigmatization of the affected population hence hindering them from accessing quality health care. The topic, however, is considered taboo and as Kenyans, we have chosen to bury our heads in the sand. Regardless of this, it is high time we get to talk about it.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, mental health “is the foundation for emotions, thinking, communication, learning, resilience, and self-esteem.” It can be destabilized by some disorders with the most prevalent being depression. In layman’s terms, depression can be described as extremely low moods, feelings of sadness and a loss of interest in the things once loved. The statistics on depression cases and depression-related deaths in Kenya are worrying and this brings about the need to treat mental health with urgency.
A report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) released in 2017 stated that Kenya is the sixth country with the highest number of depression cases among African countries. The same report went ahead to state that the suicide rate was at 6.5 cases per 100,00 people. Nationally, depression is the leading cause of the 7000 yearly suicides making this a menace that needs to be addressed before more cases are reported.
As a country, we are making baby steps when it comes to mental health now with citizens speaking up to create awareness. From the narratives shared most of us know a family member, friend or colleague who either contemplated, attempted or committed suicide. The stories are different, from a sudden change in behaviour that led to withdrawal, (relapse) alcohol and substance abuse and even death utterances or that individual who was perfect at masking their feelings. Recently in Kenya, cases have emerged of people who have made a cry for help on the social media platform before committing suicide. It is important to reach out and mental health disorders are not a way to seek attention.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, chronic stress may arise from the everyday stressors that are either ignored or poorly managed and one of the consequences is depression.
How well do we manage stress? Among the ways of managing stress include;
- Meditation, prayer and practicing gratitude
- Having strong and supportive relationships where one can speak up
- At least 30 minutes of moderate exercise such as swimming and dancing which can help release the feel-good hormones
- Healthy eating. Including whole grains, vegetables and fresh fruits in your diet
- Having some alone time where you do something that you enjoy
- Getting enough rest
- Avoiding alcohol and drugs
- Recognizing what triggers your mental health
Today, challenge yourself to smile more, check up on that friend you have not spoken to in a while, shop for a neighbour or friend who has lost their job, spend time and presence with someone who is grieving. Be an ambassador of kindness, love, and compassion.