Why depression is high among women in Nwoya

What you need to know:

  • Officials say desperate locals now seek mental health support from traditional herbalists and witch doctors.

The high prevalence of depression among women in Nwoya has been blamed on the rampant gender-based violence and lack of psychiatrists in public health facilities in the district.

 According to Mr Mark Odokonyero, the district senior environmental health officer, desperate locals now seek mental health support from traditional herbalists and witch doctors.
 “People who suffer from the condition now prefer to consult witchdoctors or traditionalists because they think they have been bewitched,” Mr Odokonyero said in an interview on Wednesday.

“This burden is attributed to the lack of psychiatric services in most of the health facilities in the district. For example, in Alero Sub-county, since the health officer (psychiatrist) was transferred to Kochgoma Sub-county, there has been no replacement,” he added. Only Kocgoma Sub-county and Anaka General Hospital have one psychiatrist each but the rest of the health centres in the district do not have one, he explained.

 According to the health officer, each health centre is required to have a psychiatric officer because depression and related mental health conditions are so technical that the general health officers may not handle them.

 “That is why there are currently high tendencies of homicide, and suicide in the district. But in areas where these officers are not there, we are engaging the health assistants and the village health teams to create awareness of what is happening,” he stated.
 Mr Gerald Byobe, the Nwoya deputy chief administrative officer, also said high levels of depression among the civil servants have significantly impacted their performance.
 “People are dying in offices here and we don’t know what is happening and there are many diseases resulting from depression yet people out there think they are okay,”  he said.

 “I have also visited several health centres and the way health workers are handling patients tells you a lot, they are equally depressed, “ Mr Byobe added. Last week, Handle Uganda, a non-government organisation operating in the district, unveiled a report, detailing how sexual and gender-based violence and the absence of psychiatrists in the government health facilities have psychologically impacted the lives of women of reproductive ages.

 The baseline report for the Strengthening Community Participation through Engagement (SCOPE) Project was conducted in the two most populated sub-counties of Alero and Kocgoma. Mr Ronald Okello, the program manager at Handle Uganda, explained that they found that 54 percent of the depressed women suffered severe levels of sexual and gender-based violence, social isolation and lack of access to mental health support.
Of the 400 women (200 from each sub-county) examined, majority admitted experiencing severe mental health disorders, according to the report. In Alero, 21percent, 42 percent, and 28 percent of the women experienced mild, moderate and severe depression, respectively.
 According to the report, at least 54 percent of respondents reported experiencing sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). During the study, at least 80 percent of the participants stated that SGBV affected their mental wellbeing. 

  “Awareness of specialised services remains low in both sub-counties. Access to services was limited, especially in Alero Sub-county due to various barriers. Overall satisfaction and perceived effectiveness differ between the sub-counties,” the report indicates.
 The findings emphasise the urgent need for comprehensive efforts to address SGBV, including awareness campaigns and support services.

In October 2022, the US National Centre for Biotechnology Information published a report, which detailed that one in three individuals in Uganda has depression.   The research  detailed that refugees had the highest prevalence of depression (67.6 percent) followed by war victims (36.0 percent), individuals living with HIV (28.2 percent) and postpartum or pregnant mothers (26.9 percent).