At the fore of the mental health fight

Adrian Ivan Kakinda, a counselling psychologist and board member of Uganda Counselling Association in charge of advocacy. Photo Courtesy 

What you need to know:

Mental Health: According to recent statistics from Butabika National Referral Mental Hospital, there is a rise in patient enrolment into the facility from 900 to more than 1,000 patients since the Covid-19 pandemic. Adrian Ivan Kakinda, a counselling psychologist and board member of Uganda Counselling Association in charge of advocacy, says there is a need for mental health advocacy.

How did you discover your interest in mental health campaigns?

My interest started during my A-Level studies at Masaka Secondary School, inspired by the humble background I was raised in and the people around my community who were languishing in poverty. Many of my fellow youth were dropping out of school, becoming substance users. I did not know which course to take on at university after secondary school.  Fortunately, our director of studies by then, helped us fill the forms and guided me to opt for Guidance and Counseling.

 Truth be told, I was not interested in the course but my mother encouraged me and luckily, I joined Kyambogo University on government sponsorship for Guidance and counselling.

How do you start your day?

I start my day at 4am with a prayer and listening to relaxing music. I then exercise and bathe, check my journal for scheduled appointments. I usually have an early breakfast and leave home for work by 7:30am.

What do you like most about your job?

I love being a counsellor because I have found joy in doing meaningful work that is transformative for others while supporting and facilitating my own personal growth and transformation and get paid for it. For me, it is the greatest scenario under the sun.  I also enjoy being part of a successful ending.

How long have you been in this field and in what ways have you promoted mental health?

I have been in this field for eight years since 2014, and I have worked for various organisations. However, the biggest component of my career has been spent in advocacy, using the platform that was granted me by Uganda Counselling Association, USAID, Mengo Hospital –Home Care Department, Health Schools Support Foundation (HSSF), Bondrich Advisory Group ltd, East African Professional Counselling Institute, and I have worked with various organisations, schools and institutions across the country during my mental health consultancy work.

What is the status of mental health in Uganda?

Mental health is the pivot of human life. However, despite its importance, it is often the least prioritised among health conditions. In low-and medium-income countries such as Uganda where disease, ignorance, and poverty are common, a demand for a steadfast mental healthcare can seem like a luxury.

 Uganda is ranked among the top six countries in Africa in terms of depressive disorders, while 2.9 percent live with anxiety disorders (WHO, 2020). About 5.1 percent of females and 3.6 percent of males are affected.

Majority of national mental health funding goes to Butabika hospital. Uganda has only one mental health referral hospital, thus getting overwhelmed with mental health cases. Private mental health centres are expensive for the local person, coupled with the stigma associated with mental health services and ignorance of the population.

In what ways can every individual contribute to mental health in the country?

Mental health is not for particular people, everyone is a stakeholder in regard to the contribution of mental health, from the Ministry of Health, other government ministries, agencies, private organisations, leaders at all levels and individuals. We are at a point where we need to work together in promotion of mental health services.

What are the triggers for poor mental health and how can they be resolved?

Several risk factors have been associated with poor mental health issues, particularly for the youth in institutions of higher education, factors such as poverty, unemployment, diseases such as HIV/Aids, Covid-19, academic stress, poor accommodation. The recent Covid-19 pandemic and associated disruptions such as dysfunctional and chaotic family situations with a high density of domestic violence, separation or divorce, death of family members, sexual abuse and other cumulative traumas.

The stigma associated with mental health issues can be challenging to address in the workplace. Many people carry subconscious biases toward mental health issues, which can lead to serious workplace problems.

 For this reason, everyone must take a proactive approach to the mental health of their colleagues and familiarise themselves with the common signs and symptoms of poor mental health.

To resolve these, it starts with the organisation’s top management prioritising workers’ mental health and mitigating challenges that hike these challenges such as timely payment of salaries and wages, promotion of teamwork among employees and putting up conflict resolution mechanisms to promote justice. Imploring professional counsellors, making leave days mandatory, providing a safe environment for talking and encouraging awareness about mental health should be key.

 Also, managers need to be trained on how to spot risk factors and signs of stress, fatigue, anxiety or depression. Have an open-door policy for employees to share when they are going through a difficult time at home or are feeling overwhelmed. Work with managers to embrace a healthy work-life balance.

 What challenges do you face on the job and how do you resolve them?

The biggest challenge facing the field of mental health is inadequate funding and lack of policy from government. In regard to mental health services uptake, even though many people experience mental health issues because of systemic and societal reasons that are interwoven with many other social problems, misconceptions largely inhibit people from seeking treatment.

Despite the above, we are not giving up on what we are supposed to do, and this resolve has been inspired by people who badly need our services.

What have you done so far to improve mental health among Ugandans?

I have trained and still training professional counsellors and counselling psychologists at Kyambogo University. I am always creating awareness on mental health. I have engaged in various mental health promotion campaigns, both physical and online campaigns.

What advice have you ever given to someone battling mental health that left a positive change in their lives?

Counsellors do not give advice but walk along with you during your recovery journey. However, I can say that life is full of adversities, therefore, one has to do activities that contribute to development of their psychological capital every day. Psychological capital entails hope, efficacy, resilience and optimism.

I have always told my clients, “Achieving a goal is a wildly exhilarating thing. If you are flirting with the idea of giving up, you could be throwing away something wonderful.

What is your vision in regard to better mental health in the country?

I have always had a vision where Ugandans embrace professional mental health services and have these services scaled down to the lowest level of primary healthcare services of the country’s health system.


You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.