By Charles Ogallo
The COVID-19 pandemic has since March, 2020 continued to exert a substantial negative impact on health and socio-economic structures of countries across the globe causing uncertainty and hopelessness among many a family.
In Kenya almost 100,000 COVID-19 virus infection cases and more than 1000 deaths have since been reported as the country continues to witness a dramatic deterioration of mental health of many Kenyans likely fueled by economic shocks of the pandemic.
The socio-economic impact of the pandemic has notably contributed to worsening mental health for majority of the Kenyan population.
This has led to a rise in depression, suicide and substance abuse among many in several counties, according to the Ministry of Health reports.
World Health Organization (WHO) reports also show that by far, stress and anxiety are major public mental health impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and predict a further rise in depression, suicide and substance abuse in societies in the coming days.
EFFECTS OF COVID 19
In Mombasa, the after effects of COVID-19 has dealt a severe blow in many families mostly employees and small businesses, resulting in cuts in wages along with lack of gainful employment and an ever-present uncertainty about the future among residents.
These have created a fresh mental health crisis hence the rise in cases of people suffering from such mental health disorders such as trauma and stress.
Alice Karimi, not her real name, fell victim to depression and stress that almost led her to commit suicide after losing a job in one of the mainstream media houses in Mombasa.
“I don’t know how I reached here. The only thing I can remember is a letter I received terminating my employment at my media company,” said Alice, a journalist and resident of Kisauni in Mombasa County.
Speaking to The Coast Newspaper at Coast General Hospital in Mombasa where she was taken for rehabilitation after turning to drugs, the 28-year-old single mother said she came to realize she was addicted to hard drugs after the recent partial lockdowns of the County.
“The lockdown came when I was already facing financial crisis at work and by then I was waiting to be paid my two-month salary arrears. You can imagine what I was going through…lack of food in the house, huge debts and frustrations from my landlord,” she lamented as a cloud of uncertainty cast shadows over her life and COVID-19 continued to worsen conditions of lives locally and internationally despite reports of vaccines’’ development.
Unlike Alice, Mohamed Noor, a professional mechanic at a jua kali shed in Majengo, Mombasa was lucky enough to have acquired the service of a private psychiatrist while undergoing trauma and depression that almost cost him his job and family.
The middle-aged Noor said he also survived death by a whisker after separating from his family for almost three weeks during the Mombasa partial lockdown.
The lockdown saw coronavirus positive residents being arrested after curfew hours and taken forcefully to quarantine centres.
“I was coming from work at night when they arrested me and forcefully took me to a quarantine centre at the Technical University of Mombasa where I stayed for almost three weeks without my family’s knowledge,” he narrated as he complained of the hardships, he faced at the centre.
He says the indefinite separation and the fact that he wasn’t aware of how his wife and two young children are coping was too difficult for him.
Thoughts on how the family, which solely depended on his little hard-earned income will survive almost caused him to commit suicide.
Luckily for him a close family member came to his rescue and took him for early counselling and treatment for trauma and depression.
Like Alice and Mohamed, more Kenyans suffering from mental health disorders are crowding health facilities across where access to mental health treatment has significantly remained limited.
A recent report by the Taskforce on Mental Health in Kenya revealed that 75 per cent of Kenyan people were unable to easily access mental health services in the country, a clear breach of their right to access quality health and medical services.
MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
Dr Muinga Chokwe, a famous private psychiatrist and medical consultant in Mombasa also confirmed that the number of people seeking mental health services has tremendously increased due to outcomes of COVID-19 crisis.
The doctor, however, admitted that unlike in the past, many Kenyans have acknowledged the importance of mental healthcare.
“For many years mental health has been least understood even amongst medics and a lot of it is associated with other ‘forces’ and superstitions to the effect that treatable conditions are never presented to a therapist in time,” Dr Muinga said as he affirmed that most of the mental health disorders are preventable despite limitation to access problem.
He cited inadequate number of psychiatrists and underfunding of mental health sector as major challenges facing the country. WHO data shows only 92 psychiatrists available in Kenya.
Meanwhile, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights in its speech during this year’s World Mental Health Day celebrations recommended that the national government increase allocation to the health budget to 15 percent in line with the Abuja Declaration.