OPINION: It's time to prioritize mental health in Kenya's growing entertainment industry

OPINION: It's time to prioritize mental health in Kenya's growing entertainment industry

This file photo shows the silhouette of a man sitting in a corridor. — Reuters/File

By Nzola Miranda, 

African filmmakers are now telling our own stories more through films, enriching our screens and aiding local media broadcasters in meeting local content quotas.

This shift has also caught the attention of African and foreign-owned streaming platforms, leading to an increased demand for Kenyan-made films.

Recent data from Multichoice Kenya shows that the consumption of Kenyan-made films is now second only to foreign sports content, such as UEFA and English Premier League matches.

This surge in viewership, particularly among the youth demographic, bodes well for the industry, potentially leading to increased revenues and job opportunities for both established and upcoming filmmakers. 

According to a report by UNESCO, the current contribution of African films and audiovisual industries to the continent's GDP is approximately Ksh.650 billion (US $5 billion). However, this accounts for only a quarter of the estimated potential, which is believed to exceed Ksh.2.6 trillion (US $20 billion).

With strategic and sustained efforts to promote and develop the industry, there is a strong likelihood of surpassing this Ksh.2.6 trillion mark in the forthcoming years.

The emergence of digital technologies has significantly transformed the nature of work within the industry, with a considerable portion of roles now being performed in front of digital devices.

Notably, the widespread availability of smartphones and access to high-speed and reliable internet connectivity has facilitated this transition.

These technological advancements have significantly expanded the opportunities available to emerging talents within the Kenyan film industry, particularly the youth.

Kenya’s entertainment industry has the opportunity to sustain its current momentum or elevate itself to leave a significant mark on Africa's film industry and the global stage.

However, while the industry's prospects appear bright, there is a less visible reality facing the cast and crew behind the scenes.

The demanding nature of their work, both physically and emotionally, necessitates a focus on mental well-being. It is crucial to re-evaluate existing support structures within the industry to accommodate the evolving needs of its professionals.

In the fast-paced realm of entertainment, the risk of overlooking mental health concerns is high, with victims often remaining silent until reaching a critical breaking point.

It is disheartening to acknowledge that the very individuals responsible for storytelling ‘mental health and how to address these’ are themselves vulnerable to mental health challenges.

There are no clear statistics on the number of industry workers suffering from mental health issues. However, the 4th Annual Mental State of the World Report, released in March 2024, indicates that 23 per cent of Kenyans are distressed and struggling with their mental health.

To provide context, according to the 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, the population of Kenya stood at 47.6 million, meaning that at least 10.9 million (23%) Kenyans are currently distressed.

The Kenyan National Commission of Human Rights estimates from 2022 show that 25% and 40% of outpatients and inpatients suffer from mental health conditions, with the most common diagnoses in general hospital settings being depression, substance abuse, stress, and anxiety disorders.

Various interventions have been implemented to address these cases in the country, such as the gazettement of Mathari Referral and Teaching Hospital, which turned the facility into a state corporation.

Additionally, a mental health task force led by the previous government made 15 recommendations before ceasing to function in October 2020.

These recommendations included the 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.

The task force also recommended that the government adopt a community-based mental health service approach.

While these and other efforts have all been geared towards reducing the stigma around mental health issues, there is still work to be done, especially within industries such as entertainment, where mental health often goes unnoticed.

To address this, safe spaces must be created for actors to discuss their mental health, seek professional therapy services, and take necessary breaks to decompress from intense shooting schedules.

The pressure to perform, meet deadlines, and maintain a public image can take a toll on individuals working in the field- and as the industry continues to grow rapidly,  the need to prioritize wellness and mindfulness is more critical now than before.

To create a more sustainable and supportive environment, the industry can implement initiatives such as mental health awareness workshops, provide access to therapy and counselling services, and promote a healthy work-life balance.

By openly addressing the challenges faced by those in the entertainment industry and incorporating wellness and mindfulness practices, we can ensure a healthier and more resilient industry for the future.

The writer is the Managing Director Multichoice Kenya

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