Mental health can be defined as a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being. For an individual to function optimally, they need to be healthy both physically and mentally. However, for the longest time, the focus has been on physical health with the mental aspect being neglected. But as we all know, if our minds are not working at 100%, productivity suffers.

In the past, people suffering from mental health issues were stigmatized and sometimes even chained or locked up rather than seek medical attention. The stigma associated with mental health deficiencies have meant that this important aspect of the health system has not been given the attention that it deserves thus affecting funding. This is despite reports that indicate that mental disorder cases have risen exponentially with approximately 20 – 25 percent of outpatients seeking primary healthcare presenting symptoms of mental illness at any one time.

Lack of funding has led to a situation where there aren’t enough qualified medical personnel and facilities to be able to take care of these patients. As of 2015, there were only 92 psychiatrists in the country rather than the 1,533 that are needed. Also, there were about 327 psychiatric nurses instead of the 7,666 that are required. This means that one psychiatrist who should be serving 30,000 people ends up serving about 500,000 patients. By December 2014, mental health services in government hospitals were only available in 29 out of the 284 hospitals in Level 4 and above.

This lack of investment in mental health by the government has made the cost of accessing mental illness treatment prohibitive in both public and private hospitals. Apparently, the cost of treating mental illness ranges between Ksh. 50,000 and Ksh. 100,000 before factoring the doctor’s consultation fee of Kshs. 10,000. This has led to a situation where many Kenyans who are in need of treatment not being able to get access. It could even be a plausible explanation to the rise in suicide cases.

Teachers who have been employed by the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) are lucky in that the medical cover by Minet Kenya also provides for psychiatric and counselling services. This covers psycho-social support programmes for employees for conditions such as chemical dependency, stress, post-traumatic counselling, relationship difficulties, anxiety and depression, parenting, legal or financial distress among others. This means that should a teacher or their dependent ever need psychiatric services they don’t need to dig deep into their pockets to access treatment. It also means that teachers will always be productive because both their physical and mental well being is catered for.

Recent conversations both online and offline are helping demystify and destigmatize mental health issues. This I hope will bring more attention to this important and neglected aspect of our health system and in turn unlock funding to enable all Kenyans access these services.