A mental illness is a health problem that significantly affects how a person thinks, behaves and interacts with other people. It is diagnosed according to standardised criteria, just like any other physical illness.

Generally people fear mental illness; or rather they often fear people who are mentally ill. And there is still such a stigma attached to being mentally ill, that it is often hidden. “”Crazy” relatives are kept out of sight – away from the wagging tongues of people, people who could bring shame to the families.

Mental Health and Stigma in Kenya

In spite of living in a more open society, mental health still carries a stigma because of ignorance, cultural beliefs and gossip. Because of this stigma, people who have some form of mental illness feel shame and they and their relatives often do not try to access help for the problems. The stigma is also partly spread and fed by the media and social media where news stories sensationalise and demonise mentally ill people and the story gets spread with rumour and gossip.

Growth in Mental Illness

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that by 2030 15 % of the population of the world will suffer from a mental illness – up from 11% in 1990. According to Legislative Digest, “studies have shown that (in Kenya) approximately one in four patients presenting at a primary health care clinic, suffers from mental illness.”
Kenya has a Mental Health Act enacted in 1989 which provides for voluntary and involuntary treatment of people with mental illnesses.

Definition of Good Mental Health

The WHO defines mental health “…as a state of well- being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

Mental Illness and Mental Disability

Mental illness and mental disability are terms that are often used as if the one is the other. They are not the same. Mental disability is usually something that happened before birth or due to a traumatic brain injury. These conditions are usually permanent.

Some Types of Mental Illness

Mental illnesses can take many forms, just as physical illnesses do. Some of the major types are:
Anxiety Disorders
• Dementia
• Eating Disorders – like Anorexia and Bulimia
• Mood Disorders – like Depression and Bipolar Disorder
• Personality Disorders
• Schizophrenia

What Causes Mental illness?

In simple terms, mental illness usually results from complex interactions between the mind, body and environment. Most mental illnesses don’t just happen; they come a long way in our bodies and minds. Some factors which can contribute to mental illness are:

• long-term and acute stress
• biological factors such as genetics, chemistry and hormones
• use of alcohol, drugs and other mind-altering substances
• cognitive patterns such as constant negative thoughts and low self esteem
• social factors such as isolation, financial problems, family breakdown or violence

Mental Illness Affects Everyone

Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion or income. They affect rich and poor, old and young on all the continents. Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing. And they are certainly not the result of demonic possession.

The good news is that most mental illnesses are treatable. A disease of the mind is like a disease of the body.
No one chooses the illness, but once will and with proper assessment, treatment and support, recovery is possible.

SOURCE

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