By Ibembe Anthea
More popular than it should be in all societies across the globe, is the stigma around mental health and inadvertently the dishonesty about it. The suppression of and redirection of efforts from internal struggles to (at best) productive work and at worst self-destructive habits is seen to be the symbol of strength. It may seem a bit far removed from you and your surroundings but it is important to note that one in four people on earth are prone to mental illness and the twist in this is that the symptoms are often times well masked so it becomes difficult to know who of your three close friends to watch out for more keenly.
Seven out of every ten university students interviewed for this survey asserted that they are more comfortable staying silent about issues that unsettle their minds as long as they continue to appear normal. Where does such a mentality stem?
Earlier in January, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, among other high level dignitaries held a rather unorthodox conversation for royals who are formatted to be perceived as emotionally immovable. The Duke pointed out that the silence about mental health issues stems from the war times when most of everything from the world economies, to diplomacy, to health and social life was in shambles. At such a time, it only made sense that conversations about what hurts inside the mind stay right there and accidentally this culture was passed down to generations leading up to ours.
This is an information I find rather important because as we propose and execute solutions to a problem that costs the global economy to the tune of 2.5 trillion dollars annually, understanding the roots of it makes quarter the solution. Having this conversation at such a platform gives mental health as a fundamental segment of overall heath the prominence it deserves at widely broadcasted conventions.
After we understand the root of the problem, we move onto the practicality of the solutions. This blogpost seeks to identify social entrepreneurs as I would like to think of them, who have invested time, research and effort into ensuring the inside of their community’s minds are alright so that the people in the community can indeed only have “money on their minds”.
A sample space of a university community as a somewhat controlled but mostly liberal environment was used to assess how community members perceive guidance and counselling as a solution to the turmoil inside. Mr. Henry Nsubuga, the Head of the Counselling and Guidance Department at Makerere University speaks;
This goes to show that the solutions are in place but because people are unaware of the severity of the problem which includes a maniac state, suicide, terrorism and in the most cyclical and common practice, mental torture of people around the mentally unstable person which in turn may torment them to hurt others the same and the carousel does not stop turning from there on.
On a larger but more specific platform, I identified an institution that has taken a voluntary and bold step to address mental health challenges in Africa. Strong Minds Uganda located on Bukoto road was founded in 2013 and with the help of over 520 trained Peer facilitators, Strong Minds focuses on treating depression among women through intervention and group based Interpersonal Psychotherapy programs. Simply put, peer facilitators are trained “friends” to the victims of depression being treated and offer solace through efforts like talk therapy which is tailor-made to the symptoms of depression in their daily life. From its inception up until February 2109, has been able to reach and treat more than 43,000 women battling with depression including 150 refugee women
This course of treatment mimics a course also taken by Zambian physciatrist that handle trauma victims and tailor make healing strategies for each patient in accordance with the intensity of their pain.
Strong minds is an institution of interest in this respect for it offers assistance to the part of society that has gotten mighty fond of bottling feelings down and yet is the backbone of every economy. Women are known to be the more loyal and industrious workmanship thus capitalism thrives off them but who is really taking care of them.
One would be disappointed to find that only less than 1% of national budgets world over are dedicated to remedying these troublesome issues of the mind and yet a great deal of budgets spills over into less important sectors yet none is as important as the mind.
Dr. Joyce Ocen, a Ugandan counsellor with a decade’s worth of experience in trauma, GBV and HIV/AIDS counselling on a phone interview when asked about the state of mental health awareness in Uganda,
“I must tell you we have a long way to go. Many of the people here don’t even know they are hurting. They think they are being brave, working hard and sacrificing for their families. I think workplaces should have a regular mental health alongside physical health assessment. A workforce that is well on the outside but unwell on the inside ends up being inefficient. To supplement this, in the western world for example, just like there is an in-house counsel, there should be an in-house counsellor. This is the future as regards to solutions for mental health challenges that arise from constantly working. If we don’t recognize that our society is broken on the inside, it will crack on the outside and we will still wonder why.”