President Uhuru Kenyatta has emphasised the need for concerted efforts to eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness by actively supporting those in mental distress.

Uhuru said that on Tuesday evening when he presided over the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the ultra-modern Kenya International Mental Wellness hospital in Ngong, Kajiado County.

He said those facing mental health challenges deserve to be helped instead of being discriminated against, pointing out that mental illness is a disease like others.

“Let us eliminate the stigma around mental health by actively supporting those in mental distress through offering a helping hand and an understanding shoulder to lean on,” Uhuru said.

“As I lay the foundation stone for this seminal facility, I urge every Kenyan suffering from mental health challenges to seek assistance from the expanding network of facilities and services. Let therapy and mental health check-ups be a regular part of our health care just as regular check-ups are the norm for physical health,” the President said.

Uhuru said when fully operational, the hospital will work closely with other regional and global centres of excellence to ensure Kenyans and the people in the region receive the highest standards of mental health services.

“It is important to underscore that the management of this hospital will ensure that all those seeking services here access quality mental health care services in an environment that promotes recovery with dignity and respect,” Uhuru said.

“Indeed, it is expected to bring a paradigm shift in the existing negative narratives and attitudes associated with mental illness. It is only right that people freely seek mental health services without fear or shame; and this facility will provide that environment.” 

As a research facility, Uhuru said the hospital will collaborate with universities and other research institutions across the world to conduct research on mental health conditions aimed at improving evidence-based care that will inform the necessary policy shift in mental health care.

To ensure access to affordable quality mental health care, Uhuru said the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) benefits package will include mental health care services.

He called on other stakeholders to join the Government in scaling up investment in mental health care.

At the same time, the president said the Government constituted a special task force on mental Health to study the status of mental health in the country and recommend transformative solutions to reform the country’s mental health systems.

“The report clearly specified the key mental health issues that are of concern to Kenyans. But more importantly, it provided clear recommendations, which, once effectively implemented, will go a long way in improving the mental wellbeing of our people,” Uhuru said.

As a follow-up to the task force recommendations, the president said the Government has taken a raft of measures including building human resource capacity for mental health through the recruitment and deployment of 146 psychologists to the 47 counties.

He added that the Government is also in the process of establishing a mental health information system to collect and manage data on Mental Health in Kenya.

“This database will form a platform on which Kenya’s future mental health policies and investments in mental healthcare will be anchored,” Uhuru said.

“Additionally, the Ministry of Health is operationalising a mental health call centre with the goal of improving access to mental health services for all Kenyans."

Uhuru thanked the Italian Government and other partners for supporting the mental wellness hospital project.

Other speakers included Health CS Mutahi Kagwe, Kajiado Governor Joseph Ole Lenku, and Italian Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister Luigi Di Maio.