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Youth Wellness Connection: CSP Chat About Kenyan Youth Mental Health Crisis

By Audrey Kariithi

Every ten (10) people in Kenya suffer from a common mental disorder. The largest population of these statistics is made up of young people, from age 18 and 35. Youth currently make up 75 percent of Kenya’s population, and they are the most affected by mental health issues according to research. 

As an organization – Crime Si Poa, we feel there it’s critical for relevant agencies to analyze the impact mental disorder has on youth when evaluating the mental health status of the nation.

In 2021, Kenya established a Mental Health Taskforce to implement reforms to improve care for those with mental health conditions. The Taskforce reported that there exists high levels of depression,  suicidal behavior, mental distress, and substance use in the country among the youth.

According to  Dr. Jackson Kioko, Director of Medical Services (DMS), young people aged 10-24, face mental health risks associated with human rights violations, wars, and violence. 

He further noted substance abuse, sexual, reproductive, and gender identity issues, obesity and overweight problems, HIV infections, and cyberbullying among other issues affecting the youth mental condition in the country. 

This follows the World Health Organization’s 2017 report on the world mental health situation which ranked Kenya fourth in the highest number of depressed people in Africa.

Alarms should be going off by now!

In my experience as a mental health practitioner, it is not uncommon to have daily encounters with a person or two who have had traumatic life experiences…and if you are a 22nd Century youth in Kenya, you are familiar with the question, “What is wrong with young people?”

I would like to sit here and tell you that there is one principal cause of the declining mental health of youth and give a strict 300 mg prescription to be taken twice a day. In reality, there is a myriad of issues varying from individual to individual that makes it difficult to pinpoint what singularly goes ‘wrong.’

Family issues may be, unemployment?… The list goes on. We would always come up with different hypotheses. On a large scale, especially when lived by the individual, it feels like eternal damnation. Break these things down into smaller-sized issues, and we have ‘normal’ life challenges…but what really is “normal?”

Sadly, we live in a society that applauds tolerance (suffering in silence; without intention to remedy or exit the situation) as grit and endurance. You know, the old ‘toughen it out!’ Sometimes in our national culture, it is literally okay to not be okay.

Our attitude around mental health has an affinity towards coping. It is the reason for panic and disassociation once young people begin to breach the system and display visible cries for help; whether it is a high drug and substance abuse, increased engagement in crime, or literal suicide! 

What is questioned is young people’s integrity to cope.

We ask, “Have youth become so averse to challenges that we find it hard to adapt? Have they been ‘sheltered’ too much?”

Well, it’s neither Yes nor No. The answer is that Mental Health Matters and we need to pay attention. At all levels of intervention: within schools, communities, churches, workplaces and the very fabric of society, we should structure our response and improve our value systems around mental health.

What does this look like? 

Continue reading Crime Si Poa’s Mental Health Awareness and Intervention Blogs.

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