Why we are not getting our mental healthcare system right

Despite the gazettement of Mathari Referral and Teaching Hospital, which turned the facility into a state corporation, Kenya is still far away in addressing mental health issues wholesomely.

This, according to Dr Mercy Karanja, the acting head of Mental Health Department at the Ministry of Health, is due to myriad challenges.

Speaking to Healthy Nation in an exclusive interview, Dr Karanja noted that Kenya’s mental health taskforce put together by former President Uhuru Kenyatta gave 15 recommendations before ceasing to function in October 2020.

The taskforce recommended that the government ensures integration of the mental health information sub-system within the general health information system; and the establishment of a National Mental Health and Wellness Commission to advise the national and county governments on the state of mental health and happiness in the country.

It further advised the government to adopt a community-based mental health services approach.

“The services should be people-centred; recovery-oriented and with a human rights approach delivered through community mental health teams,” it said. However,  most of the 15 recommendations are yet to be implemented four years later.

But why?

“Some of them have been implemented but one of the biggest challenges we still have is financing for mental health, which cuts across from counties to the national level. This means that despite the recommendations to improve access to mental healthcare, minus financing, we are not achieving much,” Dr Karanja said.

Read: Are your mood swings just that, or a sign of something else?

“Secondly, there was a mental health investment study done in 2020, which shows that the government really needs to prioritise and invest in mental health,” the head of department said.

“This is why we are trying to push for more budgetary allocation by national and county governments. We wish to also request partners to help us bridge that financing gap.” 

Dr Karanja also pointed out that Kenyans are finding it impossible to use their health insurance cover when they go to health facilities offering mental health services.

“In terms of mental health treatment, the transition to Social Health Insurance Fund (SHIF)still means that only Sh60,000 is allocated to cover mental health issues, which is not enough, thus making treatment out of reach for many Kenyans,” she said, urging the government to increase that allocation. 

Mercy Musisi, a psychologist and manager at The Retreat Rehabilitation Centre that caters for individuals and families with substance abuse disorders as well as co-occurring mental disorders with branches in Limuru and Ngong, agreed with Dr Karanja.

“SHIF has a package for mental health but it’s not sufficient for private practice yet public hospitals are not enough to cover the population especially for inpatient services.”

Ms Musisi told Healthy Nation that insurances still look at substance use disorder as ‘self-inflicted’  and thus don’t cover it,  which only complicates a condition and risks it metamorphosing or triggering other conditions like mood disorders. 

Read: How workplace burnout hurts your health — and what to do about it

Both Dr Karanja and Ms Musisi agreed that there are several reasons why mentally ill people in the country may have difficulty accessing care.

They explained that some individuals may not be aware of the symptoms of a mental illness or the resources available for treatment.

They also cited a shortage of mental health professionals and treatment facilities, making it difficult for individuals to access care.

There are also systemic barriers such as  complex referral processes and a long waiting period to access certain services.  

Ms Musisi added that some Kenyans face stigma that arises from cultural myths and misconceptions.

“Some communities associate mental illness with witchcraft and curses. This makes some patients seek religious intervention even as symptoms  progress.

“The solution is simple: Let’s prioritise, invest in and finance mental health,” Dr Karanja urged government, donors, partners and stakeholders.

AM Live

AM Live is NTV's morning current affairs show that sets the agenda for the day with insightful panels every weekday.


Business Redefined

Business Redefined is Kenya’s premier thought leadership platform for unpacking matters regarding economic and finance policy as well demystifying complex developments in the region’s capital markets.


A collection of our premium content. Diam curabitur vehicula A collection of our premium content. Diam curabitur vehicula

Full Episodes

A collection of our premium content. Diam curabitur vehicula A collection of our premium content. Diam curabitur vehicula

Gumzo La Sato

Gumzo La Sato is a live social issues show that aims to create awareness about issues affecting the larger society. The discussions range from Parenting, Marital bliss and struggles, Oppression, violence, and all matters of the Heart.

Health Diary

Health Diary is a weekly show that highlights different types of diseases/conditions and seeks ways to prevent, treat/manage them. The show debunks this through real life stories and also feature specialists in different fields, to offer medical advice on the same.

Letter To My Younger Self

Letter To My Younger Self is a podcast where guests get to write a letter to their younger self, from which Maxine formulates questions to ask them during the hour-long show.

Mazao Talks

Mazao looks at agriculture and agribusiness

Nation Reports

Nation Reports is a weekly podcast offers an opportunity for listeners to interact with various reporters and journey with them as they unravel the biggest most emotive stories.

One Health Lens Podcast

Discussing health matters and human stories from Kenya and across Africa. We talk big picture from people to policy, ecosystems, and everything in between. Follow us on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/onehealthlens

Paradise Lost

Paradise Lost peeks through the story of Louis Otieno, the times, and everything in between.



Speaking of GEN Z

Speaking of Gen Z brings you entertaining but meaningful conversations about a generation that is trying to navigate through adulthood. Join hosts Michelle, Jackie and Esther as they unravel all things Gen Z.

Sport On

Sport-On is a 30-minute sports magazine show on NTV and 3 hours on NATION FM. The show seeks to give the sports “fanatics” and “funatics” comprehensive and in-depth coverage of sports both locally and internationally.


The extent of technological growth is beyond mere acknowledgment; it has seamlessly integrated into our daily existence. A few years ago, the notion of paying electricity bills through mobile money or recharging with 'tokens' in Kenya seemed inconceivable. Online product sales were considered distant, and artificial intelligence is rapidly reshaping various facets of our lives. Amidst these technological leaps, those with a solid understanding of tech can navigate challenges, seize opportunities, and build a sustainable livelihood. Tech over Show aims to be the platform facilitating discussions among thought leaders, innovators, tech companies, and the government, addressing challenges and opportunities in Kenya's thriving tech industry.


Thamani is a business show which is dedicated to emerging issues regarding micro, small and medium size businesses.

The Politalk podcast

This is The Politalk podcast. Here we look into the ins and outs of everything Kenyan politics. We pull no punches and have no reason to sugarcoat anything that matters to Kenyans.

The Trend

A two-hour-long live show that airs on Fridays. The show focuses on what is current in the entertainment industry, controversial and popular across all media platforms targeting those aged between 25 and 35 years.

The trend podcast

The trend podcast highlights and captures the best of banter from #TTTT segment that airs every Friday on NTV. It's the TTTT EXTRA

The Wicked Edition

The Wicked Edition with Dr. King’ori seeks to address serious issues through humour and relatable wit. It is a two-part half hour show filmed in front of a live audience


A collection of our premium content. Diam curabitur vehicula A collection of our premium content. Diam curabitur vehicula


Twende is a travel show that highlights beautiful, unique, diverse locations, people, and cultures. The show offers fresh perspectives on familiar locations and memorable experiences in new ones.


This Saturday evening lifestyle show lets viewers share their stories and life experiences as openly & honestly for the purpose of shifting the culture of silence.

VIP Access

VIP ACCESS is Anyiko Owoko’s YouTube and podcast show on Music and Culture dedicated to promoting Africa’s most promising talent and creatives. This podcast grants you VIP access into timeless interviews while providing a platform for rising as well as established artists across the continent. Since launching in 2018, Anyiko has interviewed over 70 African music stars.


This weekly news show aims to have all sides of debate but not be constrained by it, listen to main voices in the contest but not allow them to hold the viewers hostage, entertain debate but allow push back with all due respect.

When death do us part

In this podcast, three widowers openly speak about the process of grief, how they found themselves exposed to the emotional turmoil of losing their wives, and how society still does not know how to deal with them.

Your World

Your World is a health, wellness and variety show. It provides a platform for audiences and experts to share their experiences on how to improve or manage health issues, across Kenya and the Africa region.