Mental Health Series, Part 1 — New Narratives

Akello
4 min readMay 16, 2022

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Image by Total Shape

As you’ve exhaustively heard, the headline on New Vision’s May 10th 2022 issue stated that 14 million Ugandans are mentally ill. This can be attributed to the fact that access to adequate mental health care is limited, majority of the population would rather avoid a conversation around it and there are few sustainable solutions to mental illnesses at the moment.

My research on community beliefs and perspectives about mental illness found that people know when they are not ok but don’t know where to start from and are afraid of being institutionalised along with the stigma that comes from speaking up. In addition, a health care provider emphasized that people often manifest mental illness early; however the kind of treatment they receive from the onset informs how fast and effectively they will recover. I am assuming we all know the exorbitant cost of treating mental disorders*

For instance, if someone experiences a manic episode for the first time, he or she is likely to be treated like an animal and for purposes of self preservation, they may continue to act like one. The solution therefore was to focus on the sufferer’s ecosystems and enhance psychosocial support to ensure recovery and an efficient rehabilitation into society.

If there were systems that enabled persons with mental illness to still function and thrive regardless of the war in their mind, it would encourage help seeking and possibly reduce these sky rocketing numbers.

I keep telling my peers that maybe if we saw depression like we did malaria, we would recover faster and go on with our lives. When you feel low, go to therapy, take your meds if you have to, ask for help from the right sources and come back when you’re better. Just like you take your anti malarial, stay hydrated and rest when you get malaria. Do I make sense?

There are free mental health care services in majority of the referral hospitals within Uganda. Nonetheless, the approach and quality of this treatment needs revival. And again, everyone needs to be in on the patients’ recovery — just like we would a physical illness!

If we interacted with mental illness the way we did physical illness, there would be fewer cases of suicide, a bigger budget to the mental health care sector and a genuinely healthier population.

The first step is to stop confusing mental health and mental illness. The former is a good thing that encompasses your over all emotional, social and mental wellbeing whereas the latter is a wide range of disorders that affect your thoughts, moods and behavior. We all (hopefully) have mental health. Mental illnesses are the enemy.

The second step is to educate ourselves as much as possible. Depression and anxiety are the most common mental illnesses in Uganda but are sometimes a symptom of an even bigger disorder. There is need to acquaint ourselves with these things — if not for yourself then for your friends and family. Awareness plays a huge part in eradicating stigma and eases recovery.

Thirdly, we need to reduce on the toxic substances we take. People are always ready to fight when you address their weed and alcohol intake but we all know there is an often negative consequence — particularly if there is a history of mental illness in your family. These toxins can open the Pandora's box in your mind if you aren’t careful, be responsible.

Lastly, I appreciate all the people who tirelessly talk about this phenomenon. However, it is time to take action. We need more avenues for accessible, quality and affordable mental health care. We need to persistently talk about these things and not only when it’s convenient or after a recent death by suicide.

In this series, I intend to bring you along on the journey of changing the face of mental health in Uganda and Africa at large. Mental health awareness has become a passion following my personal encounter with depression and wondering why no one spoke about it in the required depth within a culturally appropriate context.

At first, I’d wished to be more passionate about shoes and makeup or even comedy! so that my vocation would be more desirable to my friends and family but the more I realize it’s not about me, the quieter their ridicule becomes.

As Uncle Mo said in his recent video, mental health is a severely misunderstood thing in Uganda and each of us needs to play a positive role in bettering the circumstance for others.

Start by speaking up. Keep On Living🌻

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Akello

26. Learning from my mess. Writing for my mind.