By Lynn Kabaka
The April 2 Garissa University College attack has shaken Kenya to its core. It is not yet clear why ‘normal’ people would want to commit such barbaric acts against harmless students. The pain is still fresh in every Kenyan mind and across the globe, with numerous unanswered questions.
Listening to relatives and survivors relive the ordeal, it is clear that speaking out does help relieve their pain. I must also acknowledge the dedicated efforts of the Red Cross Society and all well-wishers who supported the grieving families and survivors.
However, the reality is, this is a short-term solution. When everything settles, families will go back to their rural homes and that is when reality will kick in. That is when a parent, classmate, community and a nation at large will understand the magnitude of losing a loved one.
It is during such times that the mental stability of a person is put to the test. There is a very thin line between mental wellness and mental illness, hence the probability of one flipping to the other side and vice versa is real.
If a person is subjected to immense levels of stress, then their mental health is at risk. The seriousness of mental health has been downplayed, not only in Kenya but the world over.
The March 24 Germanwings plane crash could have been avoided if only a little more had been done. During a televised interview with Martin Riecken, a spokesman for the Germanwings parent company, Lufthansa, it was clear that not much attention is given to the psychological well-being of an individual. He said the team of doctors who perform examinations on pilots do not normally include trained psychologists.
This lack of seriousness in mental health issues has seen many innocent people lose their lives. Simply because mental health does not necessarily present itself like any ‘other’ disease does not mean that it isn’t there. It means that if it goes undetected or unattended to, the aftermath is unfathomable.
The burden for mental health in Kenya is a problematic area that needs immediate address. In fact, it should be placed on the top of the list in the order of priority.
We are all alive to the social challenges that the nation grapples with, ranging from unemployment and famine to diseases and, lately, terrorism. People bear these burdens day in day out, without support.
How best then can we ensure that mental health is addressed? First, we have to get our legislation right. The Mental Health Bill is in Parliament, awaiting its second reading. It is a shame that it has been seating quietly in Parliament against a backdrop of a nation in dire need of mental health services.
The bill proposes that services should be brought closer to the people, that way every individual – every deserving case – is assured of care and support in the closest possible way.
The upside of this is that these services are not informed by necessity but are available at all times. There is need to also raise community awareness and address the stigma around mental and neurological disorders, which will encourage patients to seek care and treatment.
The author is a communication officer, International Institute for Legislative Affairs.