Kenya’s Ministry of Health says the number of mental health cases have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the country's mental health task force, 25% of outpatients and 40% of in-hospital patients suffer from mental health issues such as depression. But more Kenyans are seeking help and speaking up about it.
Sheila Orono is going through her sixth therapy session and her first face-to-face this year. She is meeting her counselor to get help for a mental health problem that has grown worse in recent months.
“I wanted to be alone. I don’t want to talk to anyone," she said. "I don’t want to do anything. But now, I have gone back to my normal self. I can do something. I can even listen to music like the normal me has come back now with the therapy session and the need for me to come out and say that I am suffering from bipolar like a mental illness.”
The Psychiatric Disability Organization in Nakuru County receives at least four patients a day suffering from different mental health issues.
“And just helping them to have psychological resilience to realize that even during this moment, during pandemic where chances of high depression, it doesn’t mean that it’s a season that will be there forever," said Zipporah Mumbi, one of the psychologists. "But then during this process, they can have psychological resilience for them to be able to cope and understand that they can still bounce back.”
The World Health Organization defines mental health as the well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities and can cope with the normal stresses of life.
Thirty-four-year old Wangui Waweru developed COVID-19-like symptoms in March. After a few days, health workers dressed in protective gear picked her up.
She says even though her test for the virus turned out negative, the treatment she got from some of her neighbors and community members affected her mentally.
“You can see one, two, three people understand you and talk to you or associate with you. But there are those who are so illiterate who don’t believe you can be healed," she said.
This month, Kenya’s Taskforce on Mental Health, co-chaired by Frank Njenga, found that many Kenyans suffer mental illness without knowing it.
“If you look at a family with five people, two parents, and three children, at one point or another one of them in their life will suffer from mental illness of one sort or another. In other words, 20% of Kenyans — whether we like it or not — will at one point or another have a mental health need,” he said.
With the pandemic taking a toll on people’s mental state, the Kenyan government is urging its citizens to seek help if they need it at this trying time.