Mental Health Crisis: 1 in 3 Ugandans Struggling

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One in Three Ugandans Face Mental Health Challenges

A recent study conducted by Makerere University School of Public Health and Butabika Hospital has revealed that one in three Ugandans is grappling with mental health issues. This study, involving 2,067 participants from various regions, underscores the pressing need to address mental health concerns in the country.

Integrating Mental Health Services into Primary Healthcare

The research, conducted between March and September, had a primary focus on integrating mental health services into primary healthcare. Dr. Juliet Nakku, the lead investigator and head of Butabika National Referral Mental Hospital, highlighted that anxiety and depression were common, with a higher prevalence among females. Additionally, the study found that alcohol-use disorders followed national trends.

Common Mental Disorders Prevalent Among Adults and Children

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According to Dr. Fredrick Makumbi, a co-principal investigator and associate professor at Makerere University, the research revealed that out of every 100 adults interviewed within community settings, 33 suffered from severe anxiety, and 18% experienced moderately severe or severe depression. The study also identified a variety of stress factors contributing to mental health challenges, including drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, poverty, and work-related stress.

Alarming Rates Among Children

Surprisingly, the study uncovered high rates of mental health challenges among children as well. One in three children was found to have emotional problems, a rate three times higher than the national average of the United Kingdom. These issues significantly impact their home life and academic performance.

Challenges in Accessing Mental Health Care

Exit interviews with people leaving primary healthcare facilities revealed that mental health care access in public facilities was limited due to a lack of knowledge and skills in handling patients. Stigmatization against those with mental health challenges further hindered access to care, leading many to seek help from religious leaders and traditional healers instead of qualified medical professionals.

Government’s Response to the Crisis

Dr. Diana Atwine, the permanent secretary of the Health Ministry, announced the government’s commitment to increase access to mental health services by decentralizing care to lower-level healthcare facilities. The aim is to train health workers and community health workers to recognize mental illnesses and to create programs in schools to reduce stress among children.

Mental Health as a Universal Human Right

The theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day, “Mental health is a universal human right,” emphasizes the importance of promoting and protecting the mental health of all individuals. The World Health Organization asserts that everyone has the right to the highest attainable standard of mental health, including protection from mental health risks, accessible care, and inclusion in the community.

Recognizing the Need for Help

If you or a loved one is experiencing mental health challenges, it is crucial to seek help. Some signs that may indicate the need for assistance include prolonged sadness, sleep disturbances, changes in eating habits, unexplained fear, reduced energy levels, drastic behavior changes, constant stress, substance use as a coping mechanism, persistent thoughts of not waking up, and involvement in fights or experiencing violence or abuse.

Where to Seek Help

For support and assistance with mental health concerns, individuals can consult their doctors or contact Mental Health Uganda at the toll-free number 0800-21-21-21 (free from all networks). More information is available on or through the World Health Organization’s campaign for World Mental Health Day 2023.

Sources: UNICEF, World Health Organization

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