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Task force recommends Mental Health and Happiness Commission

A national task force has recommended the establishment of a Mental Health and Happiness Commission after collecting views from various groups and members of the public in general.

The task force led by psychologist Frank Njenga handed its report to Health CS Mutahi Kangwe on Tuesday with the recommendations for the commission.

Among the recommendations is to give mental health dignity that it deserves – pointing at the need to finance mental health services in a way that is commensurate with the burden it portends.

The commission shall be tasked with helping the government in achieving people’s life satisfaction, happiness, reducing misery and promoting wellbeing for all.

The formation of the commission is long overdue as Dr Njenga said the United Nations had in the year 2011 recommended that countries evaluate and measure the extent of happiness of their citizens.

BBI

“The kingdom of Bhutan, for example, has a very sophisticated system [commission] of examining the mental health and happiness of her people. I am suggesting that such a commission would be a good idea for us,” Njenga said.

“As a task force, we are surprised and impressed by reading the BBI report which coincidentally contains exactly the same recommendations. So whether you come from the BBI or UN side our recommendation is right in the middle and we strongly feel that a responsible body to monitor mental health and happiness of our people is important.”

In June last year, President Uhuru Kenyatta waded into the increasing cases of depression that were as then as they are today, causing a great deal of pain and suffering in the homes.

Njenga said the team visited many counties and received submissions from many professional and lay groups, religious and academic groups.

Stigma

Dr Njenga said members of the public opened up on various things but particularly the pain and the stigma that is associated with mental illness.

“People are so afraid and shy of indicating that they are human beings who are suffering from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] and would rather stay with their disease at home than expose themselves to the shame of confirming that they suffer from mental illness,” Dr Njenga said.

“Therefore, they told us to tell you as Kenyans and the government that we need to put in place strategies for dealing with stigma. The second thing is that stigma is in part driven by the low resources that we associate or give to treatment or management of mental disorders.”

Reducing poverty

According to a 2015 research by the London School of Economics [LSE] – the Origins of Happiness- eliminating mental health issues including depression and anxiety would increase happiness by 20 percent while eliminating poverty would increase happiness by only five percent.

The report, therefore, indicated solving mental health problems would be four times more effective at increasing happiness than reducing poverty.

Although Njenga’s team recommended an increase of funding for the provision of mental health services, LSE researchers found that reducing mental illness doesn’t have to cost anything.