Nairobi — A recent study by Gertrude’s Children Hospital estimates that between 20 and 40 percent of Kenyan children may be suffering from mental illness, a situation they attribute to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The head of clinical services at Gertrude’s Hospital, Thomas Ngwiri, said the pandemic has had a negative impact on children’s mental health due to disruptions in routine, education and family, as well as concerns about family income and health, which he believes are at risk caused anxiety and fear in many young people whose future seems uncertain.
According to Ngwiri, there is no single cause of mental illness, but often a combination of genetics, temperaments or mindsets, and social stressors.
He found that it can take up to 16 months for adolescents to see a mental health professional from the onset of their symptoms.
“Parents need to be vigilant to spot signs of stress in their children, like trouble sleeping, bedwetting after a few dry months, trouble concentrating, or even refusing to go to school. Sometimes mental illness goes with physical symptoms like abdominal pain, unexplained headaches or fainting spells,” he said.
Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Robert Nyarango, also reiterated that parents should help their children seek professional services if they are showing signs of mental illness.
He said it’s important to allow children to voice their concerns, speak to them appropriately and seek counseling when needed to help them cope with mental illness.
As part of efforts to treat mental health issues in children, Dr. Nyarango, the facility has a department dedicated to supporting young people up to the age of 21 who are struggling with mental health problems.
“While talking about mental illness is still considered taboo in some contexts, ignoring the issue is likely to have serious consequences,” he said.