Senator Hamida Kibwana’s Vision for Mental Health in Kenya

Sen. Hamida A. Kibwana, MP.

I am profoundly honored to address you today at the 15th Annual Scientific Conference of the Kenya Psychiatrist Association. Our gathering underlines the vital connection between mental well-being and our nation's prosperity, encapsulated in this year's theme, "Mental Health for Sustainable Development."

Mental health is a human right as indicated by SDGs Goal No. 3 and Article 43 of the Constitution of Kenya. In preparation to come to this session, I got acquainted with the Kenya Mental Health Policy (2015- 2030) which reveals some alarming facts; that mental disorder cases are rising exponentially in Kenya; where, 20-25% of outpatients seeking primary healthcare present symptoms of mental health conditions. As I stand before you today, I wear two hats – not only as a legislator but as a tireless advocate for the mental well-being of every Kenyan. Mental health holds a special place in my heart, and I am committed to championing this cause, just as my esteemed colleague, the former Senator Sylvia Kasanga, did.

Senator Kasanga's unwavering dedication to mental health culminated in the historic passage of the Mental Health Act in June 2022, marking a significant milestone in our nation's journey towards compassion and inclusivity. Today, I pledge to build upon her legacy, advocating for legislation, awareness, and support for mental health in Kenya.

I am also aware of the close relation that this Association had with Senator Kasanga, and I vow to ensure all voices within the mental health space were heard and considered. These are the concrete foundations I wish to build up on. To this end, it shall be my honor to continue advocating for more funds to be allocated to mental health within Parliament.

Recently, the Senate passed a resolution on a motion I had initiated aimed at establishing separate maternity wards in every hospital for mothers who have experienced stillbirths. This measure seeks to provide proper care and support, recognizing the unique mental and emotional challenges these mothers face.

While I acknowledge that such legislation pronouncements, standing alone cannot address the complex web of factors affecting mental health. To confront these challenges effectively, we must target the root causes – the social determinants that often go unaddressed; poverty, unemployment, discrimination, and limited access to education are among these determinants.

In this, I pledge to walk the talk, by collaborating closely with community leaders, NGOs, and experts to develop and implement comprehensive strategies to tackle these issues head-on. Mental health “awareness” forms a crucial pillar to breaking the stigma associated with mental health issues. We must foster open, compassionate conversations about mental health in our homes, schools, workplaces, and communities. It is imperative that we launch nationwide campaigns dedicated to consistently raising awareness on mental health.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In numerous conversations I have had with some of you, I have noted the various existing gaps including the deficit and need for over 1500 Psychiatrists, 7300 Nurses, 5000 Allied Workers; the Infrastructure deficit of 19,800 beds, 32 County Mental Health Units; 47 Community Programs (County). The need to bring Mental Health Financing to 5% of National Budget with similar allocations in County Budgets, the lack of accurate data on burden associated with mental health and the need for and National Survey.

The path forward is undeniably challenging, but together, we possess the collective power to transform countless lives in Kenya. Mental health is not a remote concern; it resonates with each one of us and profoundly shapes our overall well-being. Let us labor tirelessly to ensure that every Kenyan has unhindered access to the care and support they need.

As I conclude, the pursuit of mental health for sustainable development is not a mere aspiration but its imperative for our nation's advancement. It reflects our unwavering commitment to the well-being and prosperity of every Kenyan but more so, for our youth. By recognizing the profound influence of social determinants on mental health and implementing strategic efforts, our government can forge a path towards a healthier, more resilient, and more prosperous Kenya. Together, as mental health professionals, policymakers, and advocates, let us agree to ensure that the mental well-being of our nation takes center stage in our national agenda.

United, we can create a Kenya where mental health is not merely a goal but a tangible reality for all. I want to reiterate my unwavering dedication to the cause of mental health in Kenya. I stand here not solely as a Senator but as a fellow citizen who firmly believes that we can build a society where mental health is valued, safeguarded, and promoted. With your unwavering support, we can craft a Kenya where no one suffers in silence, and everyone is empowered to lead a fulfilling life.

I thank you all, and let us embark on this transformative journey together.

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