In Nakivale, Isingiro District, a significant milestone has been achieved in addressing the mental health needs of refugees. Over 140,000 refugees, nearly half of the settlement’s population, have received essential mental health services. These services provide hope and healing to individuals grappling with mental health disorders stemming from war-related trauma and forced displacement.
The Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation (TPO), with funding from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), initiated these efforts back in 2021. The primary goal was to enhance access to mental health services and improve the psychological well-being of refugees, asylum seekers, and the host communities.
Elias Manirakiza, TPO’s Regional Coordinator for the South West Region, emphasized that this project aimed to strengthen the capacity of community support structures and enhance the community’s ability to respond to their mental health and psychological support needs. Out of approximately 180,000 refugees in the settlement, at least 140,000 individuals have benefited from these crucial mental health services.
TPO has worked diligently to collaborate with different referral systems and establish linkages between community and clinical services, including healthcare facilities. This approach has significantly contributed to improving the mental health and psychological well-being of those in need. The refugees seeking these services hail from various countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Rwanda, Burundi, and Somalia, among others.
While celebrating these achievements in Nakivale Refugee Settlement, Elias Manirakiza acknowledged the need to expand the staff base to reach even more people effectively. Currently, TPO operates with a staff base of approximately ten individuals, including social workers, clinical psychologists, and one clinical psychiatric officer.
Daniel Wabigiya, a psychiatric clinical officer at TPO Uganda, emphasized that post-traumatic stress disorder is the predominant condition at the settlement, accounting for around 63% of cases. While many cases are treated through psychotherapy in group settings, specialized therapy is provided to those who do not respond to standard treatment.
The burden of mental health concerns is a nationwide issue in Uganda. According to statistics from the Ministry of Health and the Uganda Counselling Association, an estimated 14 million Ugandans suffer from some form of mental disorder. This statistic highlights the importance of addressing mental health concerns across the nation.
Cecilia Kambabazi, Assistant Community Services Officer in the Office of the Prime Minister and the Focal Person for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Nakivale Refugee Settlement, stressed the need to create more safe spaces for mental health and psychosocial services. These spaces play a vital role in the recovery and well-being of individuals.
Aaron Turahi, the LC 5 Chairman of Isingiro District, called for support of organizations working in the field of mental health. He commended TPO for the services they provide to refugees and highlighted the district’s commitment to partnering with organizations to support refugees in need.