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Mental Health Needs More Attention in Uganda

Last Friday, 7th April 2017,  we were privileged to be part of a mental health talk commemorating World Health Day hosted by Global Shapers Kampala HubTumaini Foundation and supported by The Uganda Society and Uganda Blogging Community. The theme of World Health Day was Depression and we gathered at Uganda Society Library at the Uganda Museum to chat. The Panel comprised Hon. Justice Irene Mulyagonja Kakooza Inspector General of Government and Co-founder of The Tumaini Foundation, Mr Joseph Musalo Uganda Christian University Senior Counselling Psychologist, Head of Department UCU Counselling Services and Ms Shona Wahome Private Practice, Counselling Psychologist/practicing Integrative Therapist working with both children and adults (University of Kent).

We listened and made some notes which we’d like to share with you.

Mental Health is a Physical Condition

Noted by Justice Irene Mulyagonja, mental health conditions are all physical conditions because they are ailments that affect the brain. Whereas many parts of the body have their own specialists e.g Hermatologists for blood, Cardiologists for the heart, Neurologists for the nerves and nervous system, Psychiatrists are for the brain. We might be quick to tell people with the condition “to get themselves together” but sometimes they do need to see an actual doctor – psychiatrist to give physical medicine.

Conditions like depression are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain and these can have many triggers ranging from poor health, trauma, loss of social rank, poverty, divorce and more.

Donald Byamugisha, the moderator, posited in this “hustle-life” Kampala, many entrepreneurs were at risk of falling into depression resulting from the pressures of the economy.

Depression is not merely being sad, it is classified as a mood disorder

Depression is not merely being sad, it is classified as a mood disorder according to Shona Wahome. Depression can be classified as major, persistent or bipolar.

Uganda’s Approach

The government of Uganda spends only 1% of the national budget on Mental Health. Justice Irene Mulyagonja clarified that this is because we are a poor country and we have to prioritise our spending. However she noted that the demand side of mental health funds is also low meaning not too many people are asking for increase in funding.

One of the reasons is the stigma associated with mental health. When it comes to talks like these, some people assume that “mad people” are going to talk about their issues. In families, the issue is handled secretly yet one sufferer affects the whole family in one way or another.  When one is sent to Butabika, they are automatically written off as mad.

“There are 30 psychiatrists working in Uganda. With a total population of more than 35 million people, that’s less than one per million. The World Health Organisation estimates that 90% of mentally ill people here never get treatment.” BBC

There is a need for more specialists and trained counsellors. In a BBC article it is noted

“There are 30 psychiatrists working in Uganda. With a total population of more than 35 million people, that’s less than one per million. The World Health Organisation estimates that 90% of mentally ill people here never get treatment.” BBC

However, the importance of specialists is downplayed as people think the work counsellors, psychiatrists merely listen to people and should not be paid that much. It has would-have-been specialists shunning the profession.

Joseph Musalo a Senior Counselling Psychologist noted that at Uganda Christian University the emotional work of a mental health specialist is understood and that there is no doubling of roles, that is, a teacher also being a counsellor. While this might pass in many places because of lack of resources, it is not advisable given that a mental health specialist needs to focus on their patients.

Solutions

It was advised that those who have mental health issues come out and talk about them. One such person wasn’t afraid to face those demons was Liz Kakooza, founder of Tumaini whose vision is to offer support to those suffering in silence and to let them know that it is possible to overcome them.

Vulnerability was emphasised and a video of Brené Brown was shared. Many of us are unwilling to come out and say we are depressed or have other mental issues because of the stigma but those who talk about them have a better chance of overcoming than those who do not.



Justice Irene Mulyagonja reiterated the fact that depression is deadly. It’s a silent killer because it is hard to tell from the outside that a person is suffering yet on the inside they are. We must make it a priority because the brain is one of the most important parts of our body.

The IGG also said if there was increased demand for these services from the government, it was possible that resources would be provided.

Depression should not defeat us folks, let us pay more attention and get help. You can contact Tumaini.

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