In Summary
  • In 2014, President Uhuru Kenyatta signed into law the Counsellors and Psychologists Act, which Dr Mwiti initiated as Chairperson of the Kenya Psychological Association.
  • The bill seeks to regulate the professions of counselling and psychologists in Kenya, through registration and licensing guidelines.
  • It also calls for the establishment of a board, which would recognise psychology as a legal profession in Kenya.

Laughter is not the response most people would expect when they’ve narrowly escaped death.

But this is exactly what happened to a prisoner last week when heattempted to take his own lifeat the Kitale Law Courts.

After failing to raise enough money to be released on bail, Mr Stephen Simiyu tried to choke himself using shoelaces, and shortly thereafter fell to the ground due to his body weight.

Fellow prisoners responded with laughter, and Mr Simiyu now faces criminal charges for attempted suicide.

Section 226, Chapter 63 of the Penal Code stipulates that “any person who attempts to kill himself is guilty of a misdemeanour.”

PERCEPTION OF MENTAL ILLNESS

The fact that Mr Simiyu was ridiculed and criminalised for trying to take his own life is a reflection on how mental illness is perceived by many Kenyans – as something that is not a ‘serious’ health condition, or as a crime that should be penalised.

World Mental Health Daya World Health Organization (WHO) event held annually on October 10 – is an ideal opportunity to reflect on how mental illness is perceived by Kenyan society.

According to Dr Gladys Mwiti, founder and CEO ofOasis Africa Center for Transformational Psychology, depression is a widespread issue across Kenya, and it can often lead to other issues including substance use, child abuse, strained relationships and suicide – which is a far more prominent phenomenon than many may know about.

According to the WHO,suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds - 78 per cent of suicide-related deaths in 2015 occurred in low and middle- income countries, and Kenya lies in this bracket.

In Kenya, stigma plays a significant role in how mental health is addressed.

Dr Mwiti, who was an educator prior to pursuing her doctorate in clinical psychology , told Nation.co.ke that when she founded Oasis Africa in 1990, many parents and teachers were reluctant to send their children to get psychological help.

At that time, she said, there were no systems in place for psychologists in Kenya.

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