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Mental Health in Children and Youths in Kenya

Updated: May 31

Mental health in Kenya has started to gain traction in households after increased incidents of disturbing behaviors in school-going children & youths. Behaviors such as drug & substance abuse, premarital sex, crime (Zadock Angira and Roy Lumbe, 2022), school truancy/dropouts, and to the extremes of murder (Davis Langat, 2021); have opened the eyes of parents and medical experts to the state of emergency the young population is in.

It is estimated that depression is a mental disorder most prevalent worldwide. About 4 % of children from 12 to 17 years and 9% of 18- to 24-year-olds are recorded to suffer from major depressive disorder (MDD) (WHO/WONCA). This proves youth & children's mental health is in danger. Some studies have been conducted worldwide in high-income western countries to study the state of mental health in their young generation (NAMI, 2022). Over the years, they recorded a gradual increase in anxiety and depression cases among young adults, adolescents, and children (Alison M. Darcy, Ph.D., Timothy Mariano, MD, Ph.D., MSc, 2021).

The same situation is seen in Kenya. It is estimated that 1 out of every 4 persons who seek medical help in Kenya suffers from a Mental health condition (WHO, 2021). Similarly, 1 in every 10 people suffers from a common mental disorder (Mwanaisha, 2020). The rates of substance and drug abuse have also risen in correlation to the declining mental health of the young population. In Kenya, mental illness is taken as a spiritual problem and not a health concern, thus the veil of ignorance and lack of awareness makes it difficult for families or individuals to seek medical interventions.

There have been instances of parents hiding children with mental illness to preserve the family’s reputation or keep up appearances in society. Because of this, children and adolescents are growing up with undiagnosed mental conditions that persist throughout their adulthood until a visit to the hospital reveals the issue. African society has undermined and downplayed mental health in youths and children, terming it ‘not an African thing’ or therapy is for ‘crazy people' .

Despite mental health being the elephant in the room for many Kenyans and refugees, the government has taken steps to address mental illness by creating the Kenyan Mental Health Policy 2015-2030 goals. The Kenya Health Policy, 2014 – 2030 gives directions to ensure a significant reduction in the overall ill-health in Kenya in line with the country’s Vision 2030 and the Kenya Constitution, 2010 (Ministry of Health, 2015). With this national plan, we hope mental health will no longer be assumed but recognized as an essential part of health in young children and youths. Also, reform the mental health workings & interventions for securing mental health treatment in Kenya.


Alison M. Darcy, PhD, Timothy Mariano, MD, PhD, MSc. (2021, August 6). Mental Health in America: A Growing Crisis. Retrieved from Psychiatric Times:

Davis Langat. (2021, April 26). Arrested Partying Teenagers Released From Ringa Police Station. Retrieved from Kenya News Agency:

Ministry of Health. (2015, August). The Kenyan Mental Health Policy. Retrieved from Universal Health 2030:

Mwanaisha. (2020, October 10). World Mental Health Day: The State of Mental Health in Kenya. Retrieved from Access to Medicines Platform:

NAMI. (2022, February). Mental Health By the Numbers. Retrieved from National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):

WHO. (2021, May 23). Experts join forces for mental health in Kenya. Retrieved from World Health Organization:

WHO/WONCA. (n.d.). Integrating Mental Health into Primary Care: A Global Perspective. WHO and World Organization of Family Doctors (WONCA) Geneva; 2008.

Zadock Angira and Roy Lumbe. (2022, May 15). Concern over rising teenage face of crime. Retrieved from People Daily:

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