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Exploring the cost of mental health care in Kenya

Kenya's mental health crisis is not just a medical issue but an economic one.

Exploring the financial burden of mental health care in Kenya
  • 75% of the population in Kenya cannot afford or access necessary mental health services
  • Legislative efforts, such as the Mental Health (Amendment) Act, 2022, have been made to improve rights and services for individuals with mental health conditions
  • The cost of accessing mental health care in Kenya is financially prohibitive, with therapy sessions and medication adding substantial expenses

With 75 per cent of the population unable to afford or access necessary mental health services, the financial burden highlights critical gaps in the country's healthcare system.

This article explores the costs associated with accessing mental health care in Kenya, delving into the systemic challenges and efforts to mitigate these barriers.

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Mental health issues are a significant concern in Kenya, affecting one in four individuals at some point in their lives.

Despite legislative efforts, such as the Mental Health (Amendment) Act, 2022, aimed at enhancing the rights and services for individuals with mental health conditions, the country still faces substantial challenges.

The Kenya Mental Health Action Plan (2021-2025) provides a strategic framework for improving mental health services, yet the implementation and funding of these initiatives remain problematic.

The Taskforce on Mental Health, established by the government in 2019, identified mental health as a national public health emergency.

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Their 2020 report highlighted that mental health issues contribute significantly to Kenya’s burden of disease, with a high prevalence of depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders.

Accessing mental health care in Kenya is financially prohibitive for many. Therapy sessions can cost between Sh1,000 and Sh7,000 per hour, depending on the provider and location.

Medication adds another layer of expense, with monthly costs ranging from Sh1,500 to Sh5,000.

Inpatient care in private facilities can be as high as Sh100,000 per month, a figure far beyond the reach of most Kenyan families.

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Even public healthcare facilities, which are supposed to offer more affordable options, often lack the necessary resources, forcing patients to seek private care.

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) has pointed out that the high costs and lack of insurance coverage for mental health treatments exacerbate the problem, leading many to forego essential care.

Several factors contribute to the high costs and limited accessibility of mental health care in Kenya:

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Economic Barriers

The allocation for mental health within the national health budget is only 0.01%, which is grossly inadequate given the demand. This limited funding affects the availability of services and the quality of care provided.

Cultural Stigma

Stigma surrounding mental health conditions remains a significant barrier. Many individuals are reluctant to seek help due to societal attitudes, which further exacerbates their conditions.

Resource Limitations

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There is a severe shortage of mental health professionals in Kenya.

According to the KNCHR, there are only a little over 100 psychiatrists in the entire country, most of whom are based in urban areas. This disparity leaves rural areas significantly underserved.

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Efforts to address these challenges are underway, with both the government and NGOs playing crucial roles.

The Mental Health Action Plan (2021-2025) outlines strategies to enhance service access and reduce stigma.

Key initiatives include;

Policy and Legal Reforms

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Strengthening mental health governance and integrating mental health into primary health care. The Mental Health (Amendment) Act, 2022, aims to improve the legal framework for mental health care, ensuring that individuals' rights are upheld.

Community-Based Programs

NGOs like Basic Needs Kenya are implementing programs to provide education and support at the community level. These programs focus on reducing stigma and providing accessible care.

Insurance Coverage

The Mental Health (Amendment) Act, 2022, mandates insurance coverage for mental health treatments. However, enforcement and awareness remain significant hurdles.

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Dr. Patrick Amoth, Acting Director General for Health, emphasises the need for comprehensive coverage under the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) which is soon set be replaced by the Social Health Insurance Fund.

Addressing the high cost of mental health care in Kenya requires a multifaceted approach:

  1. Increased Funding: Substantially increasing the budget allocation for mental health is crucial. Adequate funding would improve the availability and quality of services.
  2. Integration with Primary Health Care: Integrating mental health services into primary health care can make them more accessible. Training primary care providers to handle mental health issues is a critical step.
  3. Community-Based Programs: Expanding community-based mental health programs can help reduce stigma and provide support closer to home. These programs should include education campaigns to change societal attitudes towards mental health.
  4. Insurance Coverage: Ensuring that mental health services are covered by both public and private insurance schemes is essential. This would reduce the out-of-pocket expenses for individuals seeking care.
  5. Capacity Building: Increasing the number of mental health professionals through training and recruitment is vital. Additionally, ensuring their distribution across the country, including rural areas, will improve access to care.
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The high cost of mental health care in Kenya remains a significant barrier to accessing essential services. To overcome this, increased funding, systemic integration of mental health services, and robust community-based programs are crucial.

Prioritising mental health care is essential for ensuring that all Kenyans can access the support they need, paving the way for a healthier, more equitable future. For Kenya to truly address its mental health crisis, a collective effort involving the government, NGOs, and the community is necessary.

By focusing on financial challenges, expert opinions, and ongoing initiatives, this article provides a comprehensive overview of the costs associated with mental health care in Kenya and the efforts to address these issues.

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