Mental Health Talk
The panel convened to discuss “Bring Change to Mind: A Discussion on Mental Health” and sensitize the University community on mental health issues on Monday, November 12, in the auditorium. R-L: Ms. Kuki Magana, Lecturer of Psychology Mr.Joseph Kinyanjui, Ms. Paula Kerre (Blaze), Principal Medical Officer Dr. Tasneem Yamani, DW Communications Founder Ms. Daisy Wanzala, Senior University Counselor Mr. Patrick Obel, Program Director at Yusudi Ms. Nastia Gutsol, and USIU-Africa student Ms. Muthoni Wangari.

By Taigu Muchiri

The students, faculty, staff and invited mental health specialists held a discussion on November 13 to discuss mental health and its impact on their lives.

The event was organized by Daizy Wanzala media in partnership with Blaze and USIU-Africa. Associate DVC - Student affairs Prof. Wangari Mwai opened the gathering that was attended by over 250 students. She mentioned that mental health was an issue that can affect anyone and needs to be handled by professionals.

She emphasized that the University has put in place measures to assist students, staff and faculty cope with issues relating to mental health and encouraged them to seek help when they need it. She acknowledged that everyone is affected by mental health and the forum was organized to come up with solutions as to how best to address this problem. 
Mental illness is related to chemical imbalances in the chemical components of the brain which leads to symptoms related to mental illness.  According to the World Health Organization, mental health can be as a result of several factors.  Multiple social, psychological, and biological factors determine the level of mental health of a person at any point.

The world health body also recognizes that poor mental health is also associated with rapid social change, stressful work conditions, gender discrimination, social exclusion, unhealthy lifestyle, physical ill-health and human rights violations. Biological risks such as genetic factors increase the chances of an individual being diagnosed with mental illness. The American Psychiatric Association estimates that half of mental illnesses begin by the age of fourteen and in most cases, go undetected and untreated.

The meeting discussed some of the easy-to-detect basic symptoms of someone suffering from mental illness. They include loss of interest in certain activities, disengaging from close social circles, poor performance in class, and lack of sleep or oversleeping among others.

The students were urged to be vigilant especially on behalf of their friends and detect these symptoms early enough. The panelists pointed out that parents, guardians, care givers, faculty should be able to point these out as soon as they notice them to be able to detect the problem much earlier before it becomes a crisis. The panelists informed the students to seek help when they need it through the services provided on campus.

Treatment and diagnosis

A majority of individuals facing mental health do not have access to affordable treatment options. In Kenya, a private session with a mental health professional costs between KES 1, 500 to KES 8, 000 per hour. For a mental health specialist to engage effectively with a patient and enroll them through a treatment plan, a patient would need an average of 3 hours. This is a steep cost especially for middle to low income households in Kenya.

Another major challenge facing the youth who seek treatment for mental illness is misdiagnosis. USIU-Africa’s Principal Medical Officer Dr. Tasneem Yamani mentioned that most people are given wrong diagnosis and subsequently put on a wrong treatment plan. She further added that in many cases, most patients will self-diagnose a condition they think they have and then end up using over -the-counter medication that has not been prescribed by a medical doctor. She warned the audience to ensure that all medication relating to mental illness should be prescribed by a doctor after careful analysis and diagnosis.

The treatment therapy thus prescribed, is designed to be whole and complete. A combination of medication with psychotherapy or sometimes either medication or psychotherapy is effective, even though  a mental health professional is expected to provide the options which provide the right care for the right condition.

Senior University Counselor Mr. Patrick Obel, added that mental health issues are not detected in isolation but are treated together with general health. The casualty doctor does not carry out screen tests to identify if the patient is suffering from a mental illness. He proposed that health care professionals be trained to detect mental illness and thereafter refer the issue to a psychologist.

Ms. Kuki Magana and Ms. Muthoni Wangari shared their experience during the diagnosis and treatment process. They recalled how they were misdiagnosed forthe first time they sought medical attention and that this is a common occurrence while treating mental illness. They encouraged the students to seek medical attention from professionals who understands their condition and able to take them through an effective treatment plan which will determine the success of treatment.

University mental health policies

Mr. Obel also mentioned that the most effective way of addressing mental health illness is implementing policies that guide  treatment and these treatment made available on campus.

On-campus counseling services are available for free, he said, for students, staff and faculty encouraging them to use this resource. Lecturer of Psychology Mr. Joseph Kinyanjui, mentioned that the Department of Psychology in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences is in the process of developing a training program for faculty that will provide them with the skills and tools to identify mental health cases when they arise and make the necessary referrals.

Through the faculty mentorship program, the University is also connecting faculty with mentee students, and thus position them to become aware of any challenges that the could be affecting the student’s ability to learn, and then address them, before it is too late.