Stop Stigma to reduce Mental Health

By Amanda Wakesho

Regional Directors of major organizations in Eastern and Southern Africa including UNICEF, Save the Children, UNHCR, among others on Saturday voiced their concerns over stigma on frontline health and social service workers as well as service providers at points of entry, such as border officials, face infection risks.

World Mental Health Day is an international day for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma. This dates back to 1992 when it was first celebrated at the initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health on October 10.

This year’s World Mental Health Day however, comes at a time when people’s daily lives have drastically changed due to the result of COVID-19 which is an unprecedented public health crisis, causing a magnitude of hardship not seen in recent history.

According to the directors, the officials dealing with fighting Covid 19 continue to experience stigma as a result of their contribution to pandemic response efforts and fear of infection by their communities hence, the efforts of these brave individuals are key to the response.

“These individuals deserve the support required to perform their duties while maintaining their well-being, investing in mental health promotion and prevention measures for frontline workers is essential”. Said the NGOs in a joint statement

“While everyone is affected, it is important to acknowledge the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 on women and children in the region”. they added

Inadequate mental health care workers

According to The Lancet, Africa has on average 1.4 mental health care workers for every 100,000 people, compared to a global average of nine per 100,000 people. This leads to less mental health care overall for communities.

 Data from UNICEF also shows that government social service workers, one of the key service provider for psychosocial support, are extremely limited with 15 social service workers for every 100,000 children in the region while.

Covid 19 has however worsened the situation. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Covid 19 has severely affected the already limited mental health prevention and promotion services and programmes across 28 countries in Africa.

What is Kenya’s situation

Chief Administrative Secretary Health, Dr. Rashid   Aman in June disclosed that stigma associated with Covid 19 was one of the major cause of psychological distress and warned that healthcare workers and frontline workers are at high risk of stress and trauma-related disorders.

Dr. Amoth said the government was prioritizing Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) through provision of mental health and psychological services to the general public, quarantine and hospitalized persons, healthcare workers, and high risk vulnerable populations.

During the Coronavirus daily update, Health CAS Dr. Aman announced measures in place including provision of 24-hour access to tele-counselling services and psychological care via hotline numbers 1199 and 719.

 “Implementation of the Presidential directive on Mental Health, and transformation of Mathare Mental Hospital into a SAGA or a parastatal is also underway to provide referral specialized care, training and research in mental health”. Said CAS Aman.

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