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World Mental Health Day: raising mental health awareness in Uganda

CSC Alumni Uganda

This article is to revisit a panel discussion held on World Mental Health Day, 10 October 2019 in Kampala.

Mental health is the level of psychological wellbeing which includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. According to the UN World Health Organisation report, approximately 450 million people suffer from mental health, neurological, and substance use disorders. Statistics show that close to 20% (6.8 million) out of the 34 million people in Uganda have some degree of mental illness, ranging from anxiety and depression to severe madness. There is a growing recognition that mental health is an important public health and development issue in Uganda.

The panel are seated in a row while introducing themselves to the audience

Panelist introductions

World Mental Health Day takes place on 10 October and each year a theme is set to raise awareness of a particular mental health issue. In 2019, the theme was suicide. To commemorate the day, the British Council hosted a Mental Health Awareness Panel Discussion to raise awareness on suicide and the role that each of us can play to help prevent it. The event was open to Commonwealth Alumni, students from Makerere University, Cavendish and Kampala International University, and headteachers from British Council Cambridge partner schools. The event was attended by Sarah Mann, Deputy British High Commissioner and Fiona Inci, British Council Country Director.

Panelists included:

  • Andrew Ssemata (2011 Shared Scholar, MSc Psychology of Health and Illness, Aston Univesity; 2016 Split-site Scholar, PhD Life Sciences, Aston University and Makerere University)
  • Shubaya Kasule Naggayi (2016 Shared Scholar, MSc Psychology, University of the West of Scotland)
  • Dr Paul Nyende, Senior Lecturer, Department of Mental Health and Community Psychology, School of Psychology, Makerere University
  • Dr Raymond Odokonyero, Medical Doctor and Psychiatrist, Mulago National Referral Hospital and Lecturer of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, Makerere University
  • Dr Simon Kizito, Clinical Psychologist, School of Psychology, Makerere University

Opening remarks were delivered by Fiona Inci who raised the importance of the panel discussion on mental health and it’s focus on suicide, a subject often considered taboo and as such ignored. She highlighted that getting people to talk about suicide will help us to learn about the risk factors and how to identify and address them.

This was followed by a powerful presentation delivered by Dr Raymond Odokonyero who shared information on suicide prevention, focusing on risk factors and consequences. He also spoke about the impact of work stress on individuals and ways employers can better support their employees to ensure work and the work environment does not influence suicidal tendencies.

Dr Paul Nyende followed with another presentation focusing on suicidal ideation causes and strategies to overcome it, and ways to help someone with suicide intentions. His presentation focused on youths in schools, universities, and other tertiary institutions who, along with increased freedom and independence, face greater stress from a variety of sources, such as increased academic demands, adjusting to new environments, and developing new support systems.

A panelist stands to ask a question of the panel as part of the Q&A session

Attendees take part in the Q&A session

The discussion was then opened to the audience, who asked the panel a number of crucial questions, including how best parents can recognise stress and suicidal tendencies and support their children, how substance and drug abuse can be mitigated, especially among youths, and what support systems are available and how to access these.

Panelist Shubaya Kasule advised on how people can access help and support and recommended some useful apps available to download on their phones. Andrew Ssemata and Dr Simon Kizito also shared how society can be influential in addressing suicidal issues by not shying away and considering them as taboo but by appreciating that these are medical conditions that should be addressed and given attention like other medical issues.

The event ended with closing remarks from Sarah Mann who applauded the panelists for their insights and expertise, and encouraged conversations among attendees to not stop at this event but continue into work places and communities.

Photos on flickr

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