As the Mental Health Task Force makes its way across the country, collecting the views of Kenyans, we must also look at how the toxic state of Kenyan politics and government corruption is affecting our mental health.
Depression is the most common mental illness in the world. In 2014, the World Health Organization ranked Kenya at fourth position in Africa with 1.9 million people who have the condition. The most recent government statistics indicate that at least 1 in every 4 Kenyans suffer from a mental illness at one point in their lives.
Suicidal thoughts are further complicated by the fact that attempting suicide is still a crime in Kenya. If you’re going to try it, you better hope you succeed. As someone who has battled this cloud for years, I know that it is often characterized by a sense of despair and hopelessness.
We lose hope when we cannot get justice in the court system because we could not afford a lawyer or because a court clerk made a file “disappear”. We despair when we know the new appointees to the executive are not going to bring any meaningful change except for the fact that it’s now their turn to eat.
We descend into psychosis when we keep seeing headline after headline of the rich getting richer while the poor lose even the little they have. King Kaka’s hit poem “Wajinga Nyinyi” struck a sore spot because it perfectly expressed this sense of hopelessness amongst Kenyans.
Our vote seems too weak a weapon in the face of systemic corruption and impunity. We feel like pawns, fated to be forever ruled by people only concerned with stuffing their pockets and those of their relatives.
All this goes to prove that mental health is a complex phenomenon. It is not easily reducible to a few biological symptoms and it will not be fixed by simply funding hospitals or hiring more psychiatrists. Of course, these solutions are good, and Kenya healthcare system desperately needs enhanced mental health capacity; but they are forever crippled in the current state of affairs.
When we are determined to keep polluting the air, it doesn’t matter if we discover a cure for lung cancer. The same can be said about the fight for mental health in Kenya.
When a man chops off his wife’s head and the judge orders a mental health test, we neglect the possibility that the man’s “madness” could have been a result of government impunity and injustice.
As the Task Force compiles the report and its proposals, my hope is that the team will not be afraid to confront the possibility that those who flagged off their mission could be at the heart of the problem.