We need to prioritise mental health awareness

In May 2023, the Ministry of Health said over 14 million Ugandans suffer from varying degrees of mental illness. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • Issue: Mental health. 
  • Our view: We need to ensure matters of mental health are given a high priority- and function well in our health systems. 

Early this month, Kampala Metropolitan Police expressed concern over the sharp rise in suicide cases after four incidents were registered in a single day.

Soon after, another man was found hanging dead at Golf Course in Kampala. Simon Bakole, 47, a vendor at Nakasero market, was found hanging on a tree at around 7am.

To shade more light on the disturbing trend, experts this week revealed that more women were on the brink of suicide, although more men actually commit suicide. 

Mental Health Uganda (MHU), an organisation dedicated to mental health illness, said of about 4,000 calls they registered via their hotlines in at least two years, 52 percent are men seeking counselling and 48 percent women.

“Men have fewer health-seeking behaviours, so women speak out more when they are struggling. They often have a friend or someone they can talk to, and although they are considering suicide, because they are talking to someone, they find hope for the next day,” Mr Daniel Lubanga, the MHU programme manager, said. 

In the run-up to the World Mental Health Day late last year, the Health ministry released a report that left many in shock. Out of every three Ugandans, the report said, one is struggling with poor mental health.

What perhaps intrigued the public the most was that contrary to popular belief that only those we see moving around naked are mentally disturbed, many in the population have mental illnesses.

The report brought to the fore the fact that constant sadness, lack of sleep at night, sudden fear that cannot be explained, severe mood swings, engaging in fights and experiencing violence could all point towards mental illness.

Some of the stress factors triggering mental health challenges, the report said, include drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, poverty, head injuries resulting in loss of proper cognitive functioning, and stress arising from work, school, and personal relationships.

If we are going to tackle the issue of mental health, then we need to ramp up awareness within communities. This helps combat stigma and reduces discrimination associated with mental illness.

To supplement the national referral hospital in Butabika, we appreciate that the majority of the regional referral hospitals can now admit patients with mental illness. But the government should ensure we have trained people to deal with mental illness even at a health centre I.

Also individually, we need to pay attention to our mental health just as we watch other aspects of our health. But most importantly, we should ensure we do not break down other people’s mental health; be they subordinates at work, members of our families or neighbours in the communities.

Finally, we need to ensure matters of mental health are given a high priority – and function well – within our health systems.