By Vanessa Akoth

To build the capacity of the media for mental health reporting, the Aga Khan University’s Brain and Mind Institute (BMI) in partnership with Graduate School of Media and Communication launched a pioneering training program aimed at empowering journalists on this issue.

The one-day workshop held on 10th November, sought to enhance a comprehensive understanding of the relationship between brain health and mental well-being and contribute to a more informed public discourse reporting that will reduce stigma and discrimination towards people with mental health issues.

Prof. Lukoye Atwoli, Director BMI, highlighted the crucial nature of the workshop. “The urgency to address mental health issues cannot be overstated, and the media plays a vital role in maximizing its impact. Developing shared concepts that foster a multi-sectoral approach will serve as a valuable starting point for researchers, educators, and the media in substantiating the advocacy for brain health and mental health issues,” he stated.

One out of four Kenyans who seek healthcare in hospitals have a mental health condition. Data from the Kenya National Commission of Human Rights (KNCHR) suggests that 25% and 40% of outpatients and inpatients suffer from mental health conditions. Common diagnoses from this population include; depression, substance abuse, stress, and anxiety disorders.

Established two years ago, BMI responds to the rising prevalence of mental health and neurological conditions in East Africa, Pakistan and South Asia. They found that these conditions significantly threaten the economic and social well-being of people and communities served by the Aga Khan University.

To directly serve other communities, the institute works closely with community based organizations that champion for mental health, to educate and promote early identification of mental health cases.

“Our service as an institute of researchers and neurological practitioners is extended from mother-child to the youth and elderly not only in the urban settings but rural settings as well,” Prof. Zul Merali, Founding Director, BMI.

Prof. Nancy Booker, Dean of the Graduate School of Media and Communication, emphasized the significance of the workshop, stating, “Journalists are involved in training and capacity building in other aspects of reporting, and so is mental health—a field that needs more collaboration and expert sensitization to guide accurate and sensitive reporting along mental health issues.”

This training underlines, a perspective that treats mental health issues as illnesses similar to any other health concern. Therefore, the media should observe ethical guidelines while reporting on mental health since it is a sensitive realm.

Advocating for mental wellness in workplaces, Prof. Atwoli, noted the need to incorporate mental programmes and activities within media organizations that would promote employee well-being.

“By instilling these ideologies, journalists will be equipped to engage in responsible reporting, contributing to a media environment that prioritizes accurate information dissemination,” he stated.