Silent pandemic? Mental health in Africa

BOMA Mental Health Summit

Featured Speakers and Topics:

Addressing Mental Health in Africa

  • Dr. Githinji Gitahi, Global CEO Amref; Co-Chair UHC2030; Board Member Africa CDC, Women Lift, SMG, Safaricom Foundation.
  • Dominic Kamau Mwangi, Dean of Students and Lecturer in Positive Psychology at Tangaza University College; Doctoral Student of Psychology and Board Member of the Positive Psychology Association of Kenya (PPAK)
  • Moitreyee Sinha, CEO and Founder, citiesRISE

Moderated by Victoria Rubadiri, Citizen TV news anchor.

Dominic starts by providing an overview of the landscape of mental health in Africa. Speaking of Kenya, he mentions that currently Kenya ranks 4th in Mental illness and 6th in depression. That 1/4 of the population has mental health challenges (since 2016). What are the most comment mental health issues?

Depression, anxiety and substance abuse.

Up to 42% whom go for primary health care, are for psychosomatic illnesses.

One of the issues is data collection. Due to lack of investment for infrastructure in dealing with mental health issue and also the number of medical professions in this field is rare. The issue of domestic violence, homicide and suicide are related.

Dominic speaks of psychological trauma of colonisation. He speaks of his personal experience of how the consequences are still there, of post election violence which memories remain clear. That there are structural issues that are still there.

Dr. Gitahi speaks of the challenges of how the health care is developed to deal with disease not necessarily mental health. Dr. Gitahi speaks of how the majority of people with mental health illness may not know it. They do not know they need to seek help.

Even community health strategies, which are key to integrating mental health packages does not appear. e.g. there are modules on infaction control, mental health is not often available as a service in health.

Many of the countries, like Kenya are trying to integrating into mainstream medical health, however it is treated separately.


Dominic starts discussing positive psychology and how the practice of psychology has shifted from looking at what is wrong with people, and now taking a more proactive approach to mental health.

So how does stigma look like?

How does justice look like?

What about families left behind?

How about education in education?

What about cultural factors?

Dominic speaks about how expressions of emotions in relation to mental concerns are not part of the lexicon. He also mentioned that there is a stigma where people would tend to turn to religion for resolve.

Another concern Dominic draws attention to, is the issue of language and speaks of good and bad when it comes to mental health. He stresses the importance of understanding the meanings of terms in relation to mental health.


Dr. Gitahi talks about the issue of labels and how there are wrong assumptions of people being mad, even though they are suffering from mental illness.

Dr. Gitahi talks of hospitals in Kenya, how much of the challenge is simply a tip of the iceberg. He asks, what mechanisms are in place to assist those that need it?

Perhaps even if the patient themselves do not know?

Does the nurse or medical professional know what to do next?


Dr. Gitahi then advocates for universal healthcare coverage regardless of income and financial status. He emphasises that the health care needs to serve those that most need it and that it ought to be people centred. Due to lack of understanding and stigmatism, Dr. Gitahi expresses strongly how mental health care needs to be covered, taken seriously and applied across the board.

What about during COVID19?

According to Dominic, one of the greatest problem, is that most people do not know they have a mental illness. If it is say Malaria and a cold, one can go to a doctor to find out. Whilst Dominic is hesitate to advocate self diagnosis, he is mindful to raise the concern so that people can look into health awareness and psychological associations that people can connect with.

Dominic, raises the red flag of not self diagnosis as professionals would be better able to diagnose and provide more reliable information. He raises the issue of lack of regulation and who are fully professionally qualified. Dominic also emphasies the importance of reflecting on the medical professionals whom patients are working with and ensuring that they are fully competent and qualified to treat relevant patients.

In terms of advice, Dominic talks about changes in one’s life, e.g. death, experience considered difficult. He starts with inviting people whom have experienced a significant change and/or loss of sleep could potentially be an issue which are simple signs which one could find out.

If a change of character e.g. enthusiasm lowers, interests, the things that use to interest you are symptoms that could be looked through.


Dr. Gitahi then talks about the fact that there is still large parts of the world whom do not have access to technology, internet or computers or apps.

He mentions that whilst technology can do a great deal in terms of technology and it could assist us. But that it is a half way house, as technology is not necessarily assessible to all and is a divide.

More importantly, no matter what kind of assess an individual may have, it is important to seek professional help and not self diagnose.


Follow @newspace2060 on Instagram and Twitter
By Helen Tung
#COVID-19 #Antibiotics #Stayathome #Keep safe #WHO #Mental #Resilience   Dr. Githinji Gitahi, Global CEO Amref; Co-Chair UHC2030; Board Member Africa CDC, Women Lift, SMG, Safaricom Foundation.Dominic Kamau Mwangi, Dean of Students and Lecturer in Positive Psychology at Tangaza University College; Doctoral Student of Psychology and Board Member of the Positive Psychology Association of Kenya (PPAK)Moitreyee Sinha, CEO and Founder, citiesRISE

By NewSpace2060

Mission: 'Empowering you to make better decisions' Helen engages individuals, startups and organisations to make better decisions. She is a lawyer by training and the Founder of NewSpace2060, with a focus of empowering individuals and startups in emergent technologies through discovering their core values and mission through metaphysics with a view of growing exponentially and positively impacting humanity. Inquiries: Website:

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