Churches urged to promote mental wellness of persons with disabilities during COVID-19

Photo: EDAN/WCC (archive photo)

“Persons with disabilities as well as other persons in the community see the church as a pillar of support to their complete wellbeing,” said Anderson Gitonga, executive director of United Disabled Persons of Kenya at a virtual dialogue, held 5 May, on promoting mental wellness of persons with disabilities in Kenya during and beyond COVID-19. “There is need for the church to explore further ways to build communities of support within communities to promote mental wellness of persons with disabilities during COVID-19.”

The dialogue, attended by 60 persons with disabilities, representatives of National Council of Churches in Kenya and Thalia psychotherapy group, noted that mental health challenges are on the rise during COVID-19. WHO recently reported that adults with disabilities are reporting experiencing frequent mental distress almost five times as often as adults without disabilities. “Isolation, disrupted routines, disconnection and breakdown of support services are some triggers to mental health challenges persons with disabilities are experiencing,” said Anjeline Okola, programme coordinator of World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network.

The dialogue showed that the impacts of COVID-19 on mental health will continue being felt now and in future, and that the church can play a unique role in helping people cope with anxiety, despair, pain and fear. Participants agreed there is need for the church to ensure that persons with disabilities are part of their COVID-19 response on mental health.

Said commissioner Lawrence Mute, a lecturer at University of Nairobi: “The church can do this by promoting discussions on mental wellbeing in families and church life, avoiding stereotypes, offering mental health education, and being empathetic as well as establishing centres of wellbeing.”

 “The church should be the voice of its members, including persons with disabilities, on mental health wellness,” added Rev. Dawn Gikandi of the National Council of Churches in Kenya.

The dialogue was organised by the WCC Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network as part of the work on enhancing churches’ capacity to promote mental health wellness of persons with disabilities during and post COVID-19 in Kenya.

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