According to the World Health Organisation, One in four people will suffer from a mental health or neurological disorder at some point in their lives. That means that about 450 million people worldwide currently suffer from such conditions making mental disorders among the leading causes of ill health and disabilities worldwide.
The World Health Organisation also found that over 800,000 people die due to suicide each year and there are many more that attempt suicide. This means that many millions of people are affected or experience suicide bereavement every year. Suicide occurs throughout the lifespan and is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds globally.
In Uganda, a new draft mental health policy encompasses many reforms that include integration of mental health care into the Primary Health Care Plan.
The current mental health legislation which was last updated in 1964, is out dated and derogatory. Mental health care is still severely underfunded with only 1% of the national health care budget being allocated to mental health and is skewed only towards urban areas.
Per 100,000 population, there were 1.83 beds in mental hospitals, 1.4 beds in community based psychiatric inpatient units, and 0.42 beds in forensic facilities. The total personnel working in mental health facilities were 310 (1.13 per 100,000 population). Only 0.8% of the medical doctors and 4% of the nurses had specialised in psychiatry.
Culture: The Elephant In The Room
Culture has played a major role in creating and fuelling the stigma surrounding mental health.
According to several ancient traditions in Uganda, when someone suffering from a mental disorder experienced an episode, it was believed that they were experiencing a demonic attack. They also believed that people with mental disorders were a curse or bad omen once they are born to a family and many times were tortured, sacrificed or taken far away from the community and left to die. Those that were left alive were outcasts of society.
Although not as extreme, these beliefs still exist in Africa and those that are diagnosed with mental disorders are stigmatised.
In the recent past, patients have been reported to refuse treatment from trained medical professionals and have opted to seek help from traditional healers for their conditions that many still believe are attacks from supernatural powers.
Our cultures have visibly shaped our outlook on mental health in Africa and it is for this reason that we still find it difficult as a society to openly discuss mental health issues or for people living with the condition to acknowledge it.
It is our role as The Tumaini Foundation to dispel the myths surrounding mental health in our communities and to help people understand that there is hope and victims can lead a full and productive life once they are diagnosed and treated.