Mental health response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Kenya: a review

Int J Ment Health Syst. 2020 Aug 18;14:68. doi: 10.1186/s13033-020-00400-8. eCollection 2020.


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has exerted considerable impact on public mental health globally. With the pandemic rapidly rising in sub-Saharan Africa including Kenya, there is need to provide evidence to guide the mental health response in the region.

Objectives: The objective of this review is (1) to describe the mental health response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Kenya, guided by the Mental Health Preparedness and Action Framework (2) to offer context specific recommendations for improvement of the mental health response in Kenya. Such information could be useful in decision-making in Kenya as well as in the greater sub-Saharan Africa region.

Methods: This narrative review is based on information obtained from official government documents released from 13th March 2020, the beginning of the pandemic in Kenya, up to 31st July 2020.

Discussion: The COVID-19 response in Kenya has no formal mental health response plan. There is an unmet need for psychological first aid in the community. While guidelines for the management of mental health conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic have been prepared, implementation remains a major challenge due to a poorly resourced mental health system. There is no mental health surveillance system in place limiting ability to design evidence-based interventions.

Conclusion: We propose four key strategies for strengthening the mental health response in order to mitigate the harmful impact of COVID-19 on public mental health in Kenya: (1) preparation of a formal mental health response plan specific to the COVID-19 pandemic with allocation of funding for the response (2) training of community health workers and community health volunteers on psychological first aid to enable access to support for those in need during the pandemic (3) scaling up of mobile health to increase access to care (4) conducting systematic and continuous text message surveys on the mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in order to inform decision-making.

Keywords: COVID-19; Kenya; Mental health; Response; Sub-saharan africa.

Publication types

  • Review