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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

A Response to the CCN Documentary on Mental Health in Kenya


The CNN documentary on mental health in Kenya needs some response.  

 

While we accept that there are still huge gaps between the ideal and reality, there are still many positive things that are happening in mental health in Kenya, perhaps more than in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

 

 The CNN feature is most unbalanced and is silent on all of the other positive things being done, which I am told they were shown at Mathari Hospital. 

 

 While the writer meant well, it is possible somebody else is trying to "cash in" on this situation, either financially or otherwise, when they have little if nothing to contribute while there are people in Kenya who volunteer themselves and work so hard to make a difference. 

 

The fact the writer was allowed into the hospital by the relevant authorities is a reflection of the openness of the authorities. It is up to the person who filmed those patients to tell us how ethical it was to film mentally ill patients without informed consent and not hide their identity. 

 

The most unfortunate of it all were the words attributed to the Kenyan "expert" in spite of his credentials.  The exact words were "We as a people have perfected the system of hiding our friends, relatives and other loved ones who have intellectual disability away from sight. Out of sight, out of mind. No funding, neglected completely". 

 

 Being a Kenyan resident he must be aware of what is happening on the ground and the great work and sacrifice on mental health work at community level and the fight against stigma, making great differences in mental health aspects of the poorest in Kenya living in slums and right at the community grass root level. 

 

These are the real experts in mental health in Kenya. Just a few examples will suffice:

 

  1. BasicNeeds UK in Kenya - a British NGO working in Kenya amongst other countries in developing countries to reach out for people with mental illness and their relatives at community level
  2. The Schizophrenia Foundation of Kenya is working to minimize stigma related to schizophrenic illness
  3. The User Movement in Kenya educating people with mental illness on how to protect their human rights
  4. The Kenya Association of the Welfare of people with Epilepsy is making a difference at family level for people with mental illness and Epilepsy
  5. The University Departments of Psychiatry and Government Institutions are working to improve the human resource in mental health in Kenya;
  6. The Africa Mental Health Foundation (AMHF) is struggling to provide research evidence for mental health policy and practice in Kenya at gross root level
  7. The World Psychiatric Association and the Royal College of Psychiatrists  are involved in ongoing Mental Health Research in Kenya to reduce stigma in health professionals  - all of these activities with proper approvals and support from the Government of Kenya
  8. The various Government sponsored Acts related to people with mental health
  9. The New constitution that embraces the human rights of all Kenyans, etc
  10. The splendid performance of Mathari Hospital Board in the recent past

 

Yes, the majority of our people are poor and cannot access paid-for services.

 

However, we are very rich with ideas - we only lack resources. 

 

People should not confuse poverty with a lack of commitment or a "don't care attitude". 

 

Instead the expert featured in the CNN documentary should have told us what he is doing or plans to do on behalf of the patients he is talking about.

 

These are my opinions as a person who has devoted his life to mental health in Kenya. 

 

David M. Ndetei, MD, PhD
Professor of Psychiatry
University of Nairobi
   
Director, Africa Mental Health Foundation (AMHF)
AIC Building, Suite 4
Ralph Bunche Road
P.O. Box 48423-00100
Nairobi, Kenya
Tel: (+254)-020-2716315
Mobile: (+254)-722 518365


www.africamentalhealthfoundation.org

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