Only 500 psychiatrists serve Kenya’s 53.77 million citizens. As a result, community-based projects have sprung up to fill the void. A 68-member self-help organization named “Ushirika Stress-Free” in the Kibera slums tries to help communities cope with the COVID-19-caused economic calamity.
Individual and group counseling is provided free of charge by the organization. The bulk of those who evacuated the Kibera slums lost their jobs as a result of the COVID outbreak, and even casual laborers were forced to flee upcountry. Furthermore, it had a major impact on mental health, particularly for people who were unable to meet their basic food demands. Others were unable to pay their rent or tuition.
“This has created economic challenges for slum people,” says Anthony Onyango, a community health worker at Ushirika Health Center who visits Wanjiku on a daily basis.
Many cases of mental illness, according to Onyango, go undiagnosed in Kenya’s slums because residents prefer to suffer in silence to escape the stigma associated with mental illness.
There are myths and misconceptions, and the bulk of our people are in denial. This happens as a result of a lack of education and a misunderstanding of rank. Many people do not believe in mental health, thus they suffer from anxiety or despair.
According to a Ministry of Health report, one out of every 10 Kenyans suffers from a mental illness. The Taskforce on Mental Health argued for more funding for mental health institutions in its 2020 report, proposing that “mental illness be declared a national emergency of epidemic proportions” to prioritize mental health on the public health and socioeconomic agendas.