The State Department of Public Service is ramping up mental health and advocacy campaign to enhance awareness about mental health challenges in public service and alleviate the menace.
Key in the campaign is the setting up of counselling and wellness units in the Huduma Centres across the country to purposely bring psychological services closer to the public servants.
The Principal Secretary in the State Department for Public Service, Amos Gachecha, while addressing a section of the media in his Harambee House office ahead of the launch of the Public Service Mental Health Champions Initiative, said the campaign will be augmented by the establishment of the Psychological Assessment Center for public servants.
“The Center (Psychological Assessment Center) will enrich, supplement, enhance and promote the effectiveness of the mental health services in the Public Service,” he said adding that psychological testing and assessment, which is a scientifically-driven process, will also be deployed in the entire service to help promote objectivity, enhance effectiveness, reliability and validity of decisions made in mental health matters.
Mental health has become an issue of concern lately, not only in Kenya but globally as well. The World Health Organisation reports that one-in-four people are likely to experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives while an estimated 300 million people are suffering from depression which is a major contributor to over 800,000 cases of suicide every year.
A recent survey conducted by United Nations Agency responsible for international public health, involving 130 countries reveals that while mental health problem and their attendant negative impact continues unabated, over 93 percent of countries worldwide are experiencing a disruption or a halt in the provision of critical mental health services. This has made it difficult for individuals in need of critical mental health services to access the same.
In Kenya, the trends mirror the global pattern. The Kenya Mental Health Investment Case-2021, estimates that close to half of Kenyan adults have experienced at least one mental health condition in their lifetime. These conditions are the source of untold human suffering, and public health burden, and are known to contribute to adverse social and economic outcomes including a heavy financial burden on the country’s health sector and loss of productivity among the workforce due to absenteeism, premature death, or disability.
Experts in the health sector aver that several social and environmental factors have triggered an upsurge of mental health cases in Kenya, key among them, poverty. Most Kenyans, they argue, are living below the poverty line and poverty has tended to increase the risk of mental illness and since it acts both as a causal factor and a consequence of mental illness. Other factors are unemployment, job insecurity, and the high cost of living. Exposure to disasters is also associated with a plethora of adverse mental health consequences including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, substance use disorder, and other psychological illnesses, they say.
The public service has not been spared of this epidemic as it has been hit hard by social economic factors leading to loss of productivity and low performance. Public servants are thus exposed to and suffer numerous mental health conditions and the consequences have been dire and detrimental at the place of work. This is evidenced by the counseling clinical records in the State Department of Public Service’s Psychological Counselling and Wellness Unit. The records show that public servants face mental health challenges just like other Kenyans.
Acknowledging the magnitude of the challenge, former President Uhuru Kenyatta directed the Ministry of Public Service, Gender and Affirmative Action, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, and Ministry of Labour and Social protection to team up and develop a strategy that would provide policy direction on mental health matters. The State Department of Public Service was given the responsibility of executing the planned activities. So far, the state department has trained 410 mental health champions across the public service. These champions are playing a critical role in strengthening the counseling services and also in supporting the mental health awareness campaign.
The PS said the state department was also digitizing public service mental health services, to leverage modern technological innovation to reduce time and cost and therefore enhance efficiency in service delivery.
Other interventions that the state department has put in place to mitigate the prevailing mental health challenges are; developing, reviewing, and implementing public service guidance and counselling, substance abuse, HIV and AIDs workplace policies; provision of psychological counselling services and psycho-education to public servants in Ministries Departments Agencies and Counties; and provision of Psychological First Aid (PFA) to persons in crisis and involved in disasters.