Research-based Counselling, silver bullet to mental health puzzle

While data on the prevalence of mental health, neurological issues, and substance use (MNS) in Kenya remains limited, the World Health Organization estimates that in Kenya, one of four people has a mental health disorder. A Research-based approach has never been as required before to tame the situation.

DelDelegates preparing for one of the KUPCA Inaugural Research Conference Sessions. The event took place at Kisii University on November 18 to 21, 2022, to address the state of mental health in Kenya and beyond. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.egates preparing for one of the KUPCA inaugural Research Conference Sessions. The event took place at Kisii University on November 18 to 21, 2022, to address the state of mental health in Kenya. and beyond. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.
Delegates preparing for one of the KUPCA Inaugural Research Conference Sessions. The event took place at Kisii University on November 18 to 21, 2022, to address the state of mental health in Kenya and beyond. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.

Professional counsellors in universities have had a spiking workload dealing with psychological, social and financial challenges facing students, as well as drug and substance abuse

Dr. Rose Otieno, Psychology Department Chair, Kisii University.

Though the conversation on mental health has been given quality time in Africa, particularly in Kenya, the voices of Psychologists and Counsellors have never been as important as now.

Their presence is yet to be fully appreciated, though they deal with troubled minds on a somewhat daily basis.

Aware of the overhanging crisis on mental wellness, instigated by the available data that in a bundle of four in Kenya, one is mentally troubled and needs help, the Kenya Universities Professional Counsellors Association (KUPCA) had its Inaugural Research Conference to look into the matter and chart a way forward on the safe path for Kenya to take.

The three-day international event was hosted by Kisii University under its Research, Innovation and Resource Mobilization Division on November 16 to 18, 2022, and leaned towards the theme Mental Health in Unequal World: Opportunities and Challenges for Sustainable Development.

The professional counselors are the brains offering, among other essential mental health assistance, guidance and counseling services in Kenyan Universities.

They were drawn from public and private universities Counseling Departments across the country.

Different universities were represented, making the event a spring overflowing with expertise, testimonies and enthusiasm.

Prof. Tongi Mugoya, a researcher, counselor, trainer, and Associate Professor at The University of Alabama, USA, delivering his Keynote Speech. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.

Opened by Kisii University’s Vice Chancellor (VC), Prof John Akama, who was represented by Dr. George Areba, Dean School of Education and Human Resource Development, the conference was alive to the fact that though mental wellness has been a lofty fruit to pluck, they can turn the tide and help more people realize themselves and live mentally healthy lives.

Dr. Areba underlined the need to translate the talk into actions to salvage the situation by highlighting that the fight for healthy minds is a collective responsibility to humanity.

“Interest on Mental Health has increased in the last three decades due to challenging issues among students and the society, which sway their mental stability,” he acknowledged.

The concept of mental health, according to World Health Organization, is “the state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

“As the world continues to turn all chaotic and internal displacements get rampant, mental health services are required than ever before,” he said, urging the professional to map more resources through Research on mental health in universities.

According to Dr. Areba, who spoke in Prof. Akama’s tongue, the conference’s findings would help understand the exact image of mental health in Kenya and beyond, offering pragmatic approaches as the way forward; only sound policies impacted by Research and Practice can calm the current mental upheaving.

Moderated by Mr. Francis Gacheru, a counselor at Chuka University, the event saw numerous research papers presented by the delegates, unpacking the available data and calling everyone to action.

Delegates following KUPCA Conference proceedings. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.
Delegates follow KUPCA Conference proceedings. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.

“We are the cream of the people in society dealing with mental health,” Prof. Callen Nyamwange of Kisii University’s Education Psychology Department reminded the professionals, noting that KUPCA has been on its toes to attend to students’ psychological needs nationwide.

The Chair Kisii University KUPCA Conference, Dr. Rose Otieno, a counselor, and the Chair, Department of Psychology at Kisii University, termed it aplatform for sharing knowledge on mental health.

“Professional counsellors in universities have had a spiking workload dealing with psychological, social and financial challenges facing students, as well as drug and substance abuse,” she revealed.

Welcoming the delegates, Dr. Catherine Amulundu, KUPCA Acting Chairperson and a counselor from the University of Nairobi, noted, “This three-day conference is evidence of the growth and strides KUPCA has achieved as an organization twelve years on.”

She exuded confidence that “Its a timely platform for sharing knowledge and best practices in the field of mental health, despite the challenges in different regions across the globe with the aim of connecting research and practice in our institutions of higher learning here in Kenya and around the world.”

In his Keynote Speech, Professor Tongi Mugoya focused on the Status of Mental Health in Africa, noting that mental health is a fundamental human right essential to the development of all countries.

Prof. Mugoya is a researcher, counselor, trainer and lecturer, and Associate Professor working in the Department of Educational Studies in Psychology, Research Methodology, and Counseling, College of Education, The University of Alabama, United States of America.

Research and Mental Wellness

He revealed that data on mental health in Africa remains scanty.

“Research and dissemination of the right data, information and knowledge must be blended in counseling,” he told the counselors, reminding them that to be effective and relevant, they must acknowledge themselves as so.

From left: Dr. Rose Otieno, Chair, Department of Psychology at Kisii University and KUPCA Chair Kisii University Conference, Dr. Catherine Amulundu, Acting KUPCA Chairperson and clinical psychologist at The University of Nairobi and Prof. Anakalo Shitandi, DVC Academics, Research and Student Affairs Kisii University, follow proceedings. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.

In dealing with mental health through Research, data dissemination, medical care and research funding, the world has been evidently unequal, according to Prof. Mugoya.

He advised that in Research, researchers should share their findings with the mental health practitioners and respondents at all steps up the ladder and also embrace collaboration with other researchers to help the society.

On research funding, he noted that policy frameworks supporting Research on mental health must be advocated for. To researchers, he vouched for Multidisciplinary Research, which grant-giving agencies consider more.

Kenya lacks the basic frameworks and structures required to deal with its mental health issues, which is among the reasons for adopting Mindfulness, a foreign approach used to ease stress, anxiety and depression.

In the Chinese culture, Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to the present moment, employing meditation, breathing and yoga techniques.

Noting that of all available data, only 2-3% comes from Africa, Prof. Mugoya challenged Kenyan counseling professionals and researchers to develop own approaches, theories and practices to deal with mental wellness information gaps in Africa.

“Through collaboration, Kenya can modify the available information to suit our time and culture,” he observed.

Mental Health among students

While the society seems unscathed, young people are finding it hard to connect the dots and escape the many traps reeling their psychological balance.

From drug and substance abuse to risky sexual behaviors, sexual abuse, bereavement, delayed academic processes such as graduation, third-space abuse, and many other mishaps take a toll on youngsters’ mental health.

According to Research by Rev Dr. Julius Kiprono, a counselor at Kabarak University, on Social Media Influence on Risky Sexual Behaviors among Undergraduates in Egerton and Kabarak Universities, there is statistically significant information on social media influencing risky social behaviors among undergraduates.

Day One presenters pose for a photo after presentation of their research papers. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.

Sexting, pornography, cybersex, false-image creation, online dating, and other risky sexual behaviors affect youths physiologically, psychologically and emotionally, with the repercussions being daring.

He recommends researchers, counselors, parents, and all caring hearts to constantly guide undergraduates and all students and youngsters to make the right choices, such as using social media positively.

Cyber-bullying, poor sleep patterns, bad body images (induced by the use of filters), and myriad other negativities also result from over-use and misuse of Social Media, young people’s Third Space, according to Pro. David Kimori from Minnesota State University Mankato, USA, in his Keynote Speech.

Additionally, almost 40% of university students abuse a drug or two, with 5% using a drug daily, according to research done by Dr. Gladys Bett, Dr. Mary Wosyanju, Dr. Jane Langat and Ms. Asbetty Keshei on the Role of Guidance and Counselling in Addressing Cannabis use among University Students in Kenya’s South Rift Region.

Even before joining campus, a significant number of youngsters have already started abusing drugs, according to Dr. Amulundu.

The clinical psychologist’s Research on Substance Use among First Years indicates that 25% of them admitted having used drugs before joining campus, with 22% using it three months before.

Many campus students abuse bhang and other drugs because they are supplied almost seamlessly, wrong information is flattering through various outlets and are mostly cheap.

The Caring Professionals pose for group photo after the three-day KUPCA Inaugural Conference. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.
The Caring Professionals pose for a group photo after the three-day KUPCA Inaugural Conference. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.

They both recommend that guidance and counseling play a vital role and should start as early as the youngsters’ matriculation stage to maturity.

Statistics have it that juvenile numbers in Kenya’s two Borstal Institutions (BI) (Shikusa BI in Kakamega and Shimo La Tewa in Mombasa) have kept rising, triggering the need to investigate the situation’s initial cause.

“Even before taking the young people to juvenile detention centers and Borstal institutions for rehabilitation, efficient diagnosis of psychological disorders contributing to juvenile delinquency should be done,” says Dr. Rose Otieno in her Research on Psychological Pathways to Delinquency among Juveniles.

Juvenile delinquency occurs when teens do things against social norms and conventions, including violence against animals and people, murder, abuse, and other vices.

She says that determining the mental health status of such juveniles through psychologically-sensitive approaches would allow magistrates to offer the right judgments, exposing the children to rehabilitative opportunities to secure their future, such as art, drawing, fashion and design and modeling.

“Most of the juveniles drop out of school, never to reach higher education; they need mental health care to realize themselves and change,” Dr. Rose’s research findings show.

Graduation and mental health

Delayed graduation in Kenyan universities has its share in the youths’ headache.

A Research Paper findings by Josephine Nyamwange on Delayed Graduation and Mental Health show that delaying graduation heavily shakes campus students’ mental wellness status.

Dr. Catherine Amulundu gifting Prof. Mailutha after gracing the occasion with his Keynote Speech. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.
Dr. Amulundu gifting Prof. Joseph Mailutha after gracing the occasion with his Keynote Speech. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.

“There is a strong relationship between delayed graduation and mental health among learners,” the findings reveal.

Whether instigated by missing marks, malfunctioning examination systems, health, fee constraints, or other causes, such students may feel left out and useless.

They need constant mental support.

The researcher recommends universities communicate about such issues clearly, upgrade their Electronic Management Systems, support needy students, and have counselors and psychologists offering their psychological expertise to help the students.

Mental health among the aging

The aged are insecure, too.

Currently, 74% of Kenyan retirees fear dependency, 63% are dying of boredom, 79% have low family socio-economic status after retiring, and a whopping 63% have high anxiety levels, as Research by Dr. Michael Mbiriri, a clinical psychologist at Kisii University, shows.

On Anxiety and Psychosocial Challenges among Selected Retired Secondary School Teachers in Ruiru and Juja sub-counties, the researcher advises people to prepare for retirement at least five to ten years before.

“Therapists should guide potential retirees on retirement. The Teachers Service Commission should strengthen the current Wellness Center to help more teachers,” recommends the researcher.

Combating the menace

“Watch the signs and if things cannot be reversed, think and act on saving your life,” says Prof. Joseph Mailutha, Deputy Vice Chancellor Administration, Planning and Finance, Kisii University.

During his Keynote Speech on Stress from an Engineering Angle, he urged couples and all others to discuss issues instead of walking away or postponing.

He says, “Such things should be discussed because they are things we experience regularly.”

Md. Josephine Nyamwange presenting on the effects on delayed graduation on mental health among campus students. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.
Md. Josephine Nyamwange presenting her research paper on the effects of delayed graduation on mental health among campus students. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.

Amplifying the issues, shedding more light on them, exposing the symptoms, and backing up everything with Research would make the situation manageable.

By embracing horticultural therapy, where the aesthetic value of mixed flowers in flower gardens, offices, residential places and elsewhere are intentionally grown, art therapy such as drawing, yoga, dancing and other leisure-like activities, would ease mental turmoil, such as stress and anxiety, according to Dr. Lydia Gitonga from the School of Agriculture, Kisii University.

“Empower youngsters to use digital technology positively. Simultaneously, monitor what children access on social media and over the internet,” advises Prof. Kimori.

Online and peer-to-peer counseling could also be the solution we have been waiting for.

Prof David Kimori giving a Keynote Speech on Social Media Platforms, Young People's Third Space for Mental Illness. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.
Prof David Kimori from Minnesota State University Mankato, USA, giving a Keynote Speech on Social Media Platforms as Young People’s Third Space for Mental Illness. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.

KUPCA resolutions

The conference agreed that during national health meetings, KUPCA should be allowed and available to present their experiences on possible ways out.

KUPCA has the potential to offer accurate information with research-based findings for implementation. The professionals will use such findings as the bedrock for capacity building on the counselees.

Neighboring universities should collaborate to host mental health-related events to address the peril, especially among students.

The conferees challenged themselves to have a journal or commence publishing conference proceedings while strengthening KUPCA Regional Chapters.

They resolved to publicize their efforts through advocacy and marketing and toss themselves into more research and data dissemination collaborations.

Prof. Anakalo Shitandi, DVC Academics, Research and Student Affairs, representing the VC during the closing ceremony. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.
Prof. Anakalo Shitandi, Ag. DVC Academics, Research and Student Affairs, representing the VC, Prof John Akama, during the closing ceremony. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.

KUPCA, being a powerhouse of professional counselors, should pick up the responsibility of continuous counselor education.

“As Kisii University, we support the scholars engaging in such fora for research and collaboration possibilities with potential partners,” said Prof. Anakalo Shitandi, Ag. DVC Academics, Research and Student Affairs, who represented the VC during the closing ceremony.

YOU CAN ALSO READ: Rethinking Kenya’s state of mental health amidst Covid-19

He posed that collaboration will help strengthen networks, skill sets, and third-party expertise through interactions with other universities and researchers, furthering Research.

The event culminated with a call to more intentional Research to solve mental health problems nationally and continentally, urging every hand to get to work.

MORE PHOTOS

Kisii University Choir entertaining the delegates. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.
Kisii University Choir entertaining the delegates as part of music therapy. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.
Mr. Francis Gacheru, a counselor at Chuka University. He moderated the conference. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.
Mr. Francis Gacheru, a counselor at Chuka University. He moderated the conference. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.
Part of day two presenters posing for a photo after the Question and Answer Session. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.
Part of day two presenters posing for a photo after the Question and Answer Session. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.
From left: Dr. Catherine Amulundu, Prof Joseph Mailutha and Dr. Rose Otieno pose for a photo before gifting Prof Mailutha after deliering his Keynote Speech. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.
From left: Dr. Catherine Amulundu, Prof Joseph Mailutha and Dr. Rose Otieno pose for a photo before gifting Prof Mailutha after deliering his Keynote Speech. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.
Pst. Esther Mwende, a counselling psychologist at Kabarak University. She kept the conference appreciative and lively through her creative appreciation tactics. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.
Pst. Esther Mwende, a counselling psychologist at Kabarak University. She kept the conference appreciative and lively through her creative appreciation tactics. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.
Delegates pose for a group photo on the conference's first day. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.
Delegates pose for a group photo on the conference’s first day. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.
Md. Betty Tesot , a psychologist and teacher, Moi High School Kabarak, presenting her research paper on Impact of Guidance and Counselling on Early Sexual Activity among Adolescents. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.
Md. Betty Tesot , a psychologist and teacher, Moi High School Kabarak, presenting her research paper on Impact of Guidance and Counselling on Early Sexual Activity among Adolescents. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.
Kisii University Choir entertaining the conferees with a folk song. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.
Kisii University Choir entertaining the conferees with a folk song. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.
Dr Michael Mbiriri, from the Counseling Department, Kisii University, presenting a paper on the need for counselling among retirees. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.
Dr. Michael Mbiriri, from the Counseling Department Kisii University, presenting a paper on the need for counseling among retirees. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.
The Caring Professionals appreciating a presenter. PHOTO, Kisii University Media. PHOTO/Kisii University Media.
The Caring Professionals appreciating a presenter. PHOTO, Kisii University Media.
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Mr. Makau holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Linguistics, Media & Communication from Moi University, Kenya. He is a Columnist and Editor with Scholar Media Africa, with a keen interest in Education, Health, Climate Change, and Literature.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Well-done psychologists and counselors, kindly forward the research findings and proposals to the Government especially our scholar president for possible adoption for our country’s mental health care by ministry of health and education.

  2. Very insightful. We are slowly coming of age. We helpers are willing and able but a lot needs to be done at policy level to facilitate the good work . We do need to develop theories that are closely relevant to our environment . Well done!

  3. This is one of the serious moves towards enhancing the lives of our brothers and sisters who are mentally challenged nationally and internationally. Aim at the best.

  4. Mental Health shouldn’t be taken for granted. Alot of interventions should be done towards the community. All protocols should be observed instead of waiting for the situation to turn into a pandemic.

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