Kenya elderly want government action against depression

Erick Odhiambo

Older persons in Kenya Friday joined hands to ask the government to act and address the increasing cases of depression. Meeting in various places today in Nairobi, the older persons noted that depression is a matter of great concern for them.

Dr Cleopas Mailu, the Cabinet Secretary for Health, said Kenya is to implement a comprehensive management plan on depression. The government, he said has a mental health policy 2015-2030 which provides her commitment to pursuing policy measures and strategies for achieving optimal health status and capacity of each individual.

The policy led to the development of the Mental Health Bill of 2014. The Bill obligates the government to provide primary health care on mental health for older persons through education, awareness creation and ensuring that all the mental health facilities are accessible to all.

“Depression is a real area of concern for older persons in Kenya. The neglect we suffer from family members like our children we raised, the fact that you have no income to help you make ends meet and inadequate health care often compound the mental anguish we face,” says Jane, an older person who also live with disability from Kenya.

Globally, an estimated 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression, and 7% of older people are affected. Multiple social, psychological and biological factors determine a person’s mental health. But the circumstances older people face mean they are more likely to experience isolation, loss of independence and loneliness. They may, for example, face bereavement due to the loss of a loved one, or a drop in socioeconomic status and income with retirement. These factors can contribute to depression.

“Depression can affect people of all ages and from all walks of life, but globally prevalence rates peak in older age, between 55 and 74. Despite this, older people often struggle to access vital services and support,” said Rachel Albone, Health and Care Advisor at HelpAge International.

“There are plenty of actions governments can take to tackle depression in older age. They can ensure access to treatment and support such as counselling, address income insecurity through social pensions, and facilitate older people’s inclusion in finding lasting solutions.”

Older people in Kenya are uniting with thousands of others worldwide as part of the HelpAge International’s Age Demands Action campaign.

Older men and women are marching, meeting with Ministers of Health and hosting poetry events in their countries to raise awareness of depression and other health issues affecting older people.
“It is important older men and women know that mental health and emotional wellbeing are as important in older age as at any other time of life,” said Kate Wedgwood, Director of Network, Advocacy, Communications and Campaigns at HelpAge International.

“Building on the momentum to tackle ageism by campaigners last year, we are encouraging older people to challenge ageism within the health sector too. This is crucial in ensuring increased access to health services for older people, including treatment for depression.”

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