By Jasper Twesige,
In Uganda, there is one psychiatric hospital and not more than fifty specialized mental health doctors (psychiatrists), with long distances to health-care services. This creates a challenge for how to reach children and adolescents with mental health services.
The children and youth majorly in schools and higher institutions of learning have limited or no access to professional counselors and mental health services thus less promotion of mental health awareness
In order to ensure school-based mental health promotion interventions, LEM Mindfulness (Love, Empathy, Mindfulness), an indigenous mental health organisation is running a campaign on promoting student well-being and mental health promotion activity in schools and higher institutions of learning in Uganda.
The campaign that is currently ongoing at Kyambogo University aims to supporting students with mental health awareness, counseling services among other activities.
Carol Naamara, mental health advocate at LEM Mindfulness says that Kyambogo University was chosen because it has the highest number of suicidal deaths which she says may be a result of mental health disorders.
She said that during the campaign, the orgainisation gives numerous mental health promotion activities to ensure the well-being of staff and students.
“We have been providing various services like mental health awareness, how to deal with mental health struggles, how to identify individuals suffering mental health, one on one counselling, group counseling with students and staff,” she said.
These services are further extended to the neighbouring communities for instance; at Kyambogo University, they have provided services to residents in areas of Banda, kiwatule and Kireka.
Naamara further notes that during these campaigns, the organisation together with the hosting institution holds public lectures inwhich experts are called in to share their personal experiences and expertise on mental health to students. This is being done to restore hopes to students and fight against mental health stigma.
Besides the public lectures, Naamara says that they also conduct essay writing competitions on mental health where individual students or groups participate and the best writers are awarded prizes such as customized LEM Mindfulness T Shirts, caps, writing pads to mention but a few. This according to her promotes students inclusiveness in championing for mental health.
Joseph Ajal, CEO and founder Precision HR shared his personal experience on mental health.
Ajal is the victim of mental health and he a few months ago (March, 2022) lost his beloved wife, (RIP) due to bipolar disorder after she committed suicide by hanging.
Disheartening experience it was! But, Ajal uses the experience to create awareness on how to learn to manage challenges brought about by mental illness.
“Life is full of stresses like money, some people don’t know how to manage money, they end up becoming so stressful. Tiresome activities also cause stresses, very common at work places to meet work obligation and in schools among others. All these can attribute to your being mentally unwell,” said Ajal
He was speaking during the Kyambogo university health week public lecture organised by Kyambogo University and her partners like LEM Mindfulness, Strong Minds Uganda, Red Cross among others.
In his remarks he emphasized early preparation for students at school so as to avoid panic and stress during examination time.
In addition, learners have been urged to learn to manage their sleep stating that having enough sleep is good to their mental health.
“As a young person you need to have enough sleep for proper functioning of the brain to avoid mental illness. Managing recreation to avoid mental illness,” Ajal emphasised
He warned the audience against hanging out and engaging in toxic relationships as they may affect one’s mental health.
“Outings should be limited because they invite consumption of substances like alcohol and drugs like cocaine, marijuana, shissha among others. Toxic relationships can bring mental imbalances so feel free to exit toxic relationships for the safety of your mind”, warns Ajal
He suggests for proper use of social media and the internet to promote mental health awareness.
“Statistics have it that suicide victims normally contemplate to commit suicide before the actual commission of suicide is done. The fact that you can treat a foot and heals, it’s very possible to treat the mind and heal”, Ajal said urging the public to regularly go for mental health check ups and Counseling Services.
In Uganda, mental health takes 1% of the health budget making it difficult to facilitate mental health workers such as psychiatrists, therapists and counselors.
Experts have on several occasions called for increased funding to fill mental spaces and reduce on the casess of mental illness.
Students’ react to LEM Mindfulness Mentorship
Ssebalinga Eric Elisa, the state minister for health, Kyambogo University guild cabinet and a student of Electrical Engineering says LEM Mindfulness mentorship on mental health awareness is a good timing to the students and sorrounding communities to access free services by experts which may be costly when obtained privately.
“At the end of the activity, an estimation of over 3000 Kyambogo University students, and the neighboring community will have benefited from this programme. This is a good number and clearly enlightens the impact of the activity,” he said
Reagan Busobozi, a 3rd year student of Industrial Engineering and Management said that he and his other colleagues are developing a software App called up the KYU-SAFE APP which will be giving free guidance and counselling services to students.
When complete, says Busobozi, every student will be able to have access to counselling services at their convenience. He hopes to cordinate to counseling services providers to give online conseling using this App.