One in four Kenyans is likely to suffer from a mental illness at some point in their life and they will find it difficult to get the healthcare they need, reveals a Nation Newsplex investigation.
The review of mental health data also finds that the suicide rate for men is three times higher than the rate for women. Figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that the suicide rate per 100,000 people in Kenya is seven, with the rate for men being 11 and women three.
Kenya’s rate is below Africa’s average of nine deaths per 100,000.
Psychiatrist Lukoye Atwoli says men die by suicide more often than women because men use more lethal methods compared with women when attempting suicide.
Psychologist Job Watene also attributes the difference between male and female suicide rates to the many support systems and relationships women have among themselves and their willingness to seek help from friends and medical experts.
“Women talk more between themselves about health and other issues than men. They are also more willing to seek medical assistance as compared to men. A great number of the patients we have are women,” he says.
Depressed people lose five hours and 36 minutes of productive work every week compared with one and a half hours for the non-depressed.
In 2016 there were 99,840 outpatient hospital visits for mental disorders, an eight per cent increase over the previous year, according to the Statistical Abstracts 2017. Of these, one in seven or 15,223 visits occurred in Nairobi County, which has a population of 4.5 million. Nairobi recorded the most outpatient visits for mental illness. It was followed by Muranga (5,575), Nyeri (4,881), Kiambu (4,371) and Mombasa (3,915). Each of the top five counties has a population of more than one million people.
Sparsely populated Isiolo and Samburu (each with a population of less than 300,000) had the least number of suicides, at 189 and 336 respectively.
About 40 per cent of in-patients in health facilities suffer from mental disorders, according to the Kenya Mental Health Policy (2015-2030).
Though mental disorders are common and widespread, a majority of Kenyans who suffer from these illnesses do not get the care and treatment they need. A Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) audit of the mental health system in Kenya estimates that out of six people with a mental illness, five do not receive any treatment.
Anne (not her real name) is one of the few Kenyans who got the help they needed when they suffered from a mental illness, even though for her it took several attempts. She became depressed after she got vitiligo, a skin condition that causes loss of skin colour in patches.
“I was a teenager then, seeking love and approval from my peers. I would cut myself in any part of the skin that a patch appeared. As it spread all over my body, I stayed indoors for days, and when outside, people would throw at me all manner of insults.”
Her condition even affected her studies. “I was selected to go to Moi University but I opted out because I was afraid of the attention I’d receive there. So I enrolled for a bachelor’s degree in business administration at Kenya Methodist University and chose evening classes because I didn’t want people to see me during the day. I graduated, though I performed very poorly due to lack of focus. It was very stressful,” she recalls.