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Mental Health in Children and Youths in Kenya

Updated: Jan 17

The issue of mental health in Kenya is gaining attention, particularly concerning school-going children and youths, due to the rise in concerning behaviors. Instances such as drug and substance abuse, premarital sex, crime, school truancy/dropouts, and even extreme cases like murder have prompted parents and medical experts to acknowledge the critical state of the young population.

Depression, a prevalent global mental disorder, affects a significant portion of the youth. Approximately 4% of children aged 12 to 17 and 9% of those aged 18 to 24 suffer from major depressive disorder (MDD), underscoring the vulnerability of youth and children to mental health issues. Studies conducted in high-income Western countries have observed a gradual increase in anxiety and depression cases among young adults, adolescents, and children.

In Kenya, the situation is similar, with an estimated one in four individuals seeking medical help facing a mental health condition. Additionally, one in ten people is affected by a common mental disorder. The surge in substance and drug abuse aligns with the deteriorating mental health of the young population. Unfortunately, mental illness in Kenya is often perceived as a spiritual problem rather than a health concern, leading to ignorance and a lack of awareness, hindering medical interventions.

Instances of parents concealing children with mental illnesses to preserve family reputation or societal appearances have been noted. This practice results in undiagnosed mental conditions persisting into adulthood until a hospital visit reveals the issue.

Mental health in youths and children is often downplayed in African societies, labeled as 'not an African thing' or associated with 'crazy people.'

Due to mental health being a significant concern in the young generation, local government has taken steps to address the issue by introducing the Kenyan Mental Health Policy 2015-2030 goals. Aligned with the Kenya Health Policy, 2014 – 2030, these initiatives aim to reduce overall ill-health in Kenya, in line with the country’s Vision 2030 and the 2010 Constitution. The hope is that mental health will be recognized as an integral part of the well-being of young children and youths, leading to reforms in mental health practices and early childhood interventions for securing treatment in Kenya.


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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