Why Mental Health should be a top priority of every stakeholder in Uganda

The latest Global Burden of Disease data indicates that mental and substance use disorders make up 3.35 percent of the total disease burden of Uganda (IHME Global Burden of Disease 2020). And according to the Health Sector and Development Plan 2015/16 to 2019/20, from 1990 to 2010, there was a 71 percent increase in epilepsy, 102 percent increase for self-harm, 148 percent increase in interpersonal                        violence.  Depression is estimated to be at 25% for people in the community (NHDP, 2015-16 -2019/20) with about 450 million people living with mental disorders globally. The Director-General of the World Health Organization in his 2021 speech emphasized that as the world is accepting the concept of Universal Health Coverage (UHC), mental health must be an integral part and nobody should be denied access to mental health care because she or he is poor or lives in a remote place.

According to the World Health Organization, Mental Health is responsible for 92 percent of the disease in the world and 80 percent of the mental health victims are in developing countries like Uganda. Global prevalence for mental health issues like anxiety, increased suicides and suicidal thoughts, domestic violence, social withdrawal, isolation and uncertainty went up during and after the COVID 19 pandemic where some studies showed that the general population presented with depression to a tune of 20-30 percent though it was previously 15-25 percent of 42 million people in the general public.

In Uganda, systematic reviews 2020 by Nelson Olio and Akuna in 2021 show a great burden of mental disorder estimated at 25 percent in the population with cases in children rising at 20 percent of the total population majorly caused by depression and anxiety. While related study shows that 11 million people are estimated to use alcohol in Uganda of which four million are considered as high-end users and in need of treatment for alcohol-use disorder.

Although Uganda has made significant positive mental health reforms and guidelines including the Mental Health Act 2019, which among others provide for care and treatment for persons with mental illness, admission, treatment, discharge, provision of basic mental health services, protection of persons with mental illness and community mental health services are integrated in the treatment and care. However, the Act largely remains on paper as only 1 percent of 9.8 percent health budget goes into mental health care, only 0.8 percent of the medical doctors and 4 percent of the nurses have specialties in mental health with Uganda Ministry of Health (MoH) only running a mental health division and lacks a fully functioning department of mental health.

As Uganda joins the rest of the World to commemorate the National World Mental Health Day on October 18, 2022 under the theme; ‘Make Mental and Wellbeing for All a National Priority’, the celebration presents a unique opportunity to bring together diverse stakeholders working on mental health- related issues to exchange ideas, collaborate and learn best practices for better mental health outcomes in Uganda. To the government, it is an opportunity for all government departments and ministries to focus on research and evidence generation in mental health, create inter-ministerial and inter-agency collaboration for mental health, strengthen referral pathways for mental care and psychosocial support, and strengthening professional bodies like the National Association of Social Workers of Uganda-(NASWU) and Uganda Counselling Association to strengthen mental health services along the continuum of mental health care for a healthy and resilient individuals , families and communities in Uganda.   


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