Friday, July 11, 2008


Mental health is a state of successful performance of the mental function, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with other people, and the ability to adapt to change and cope with diversity.

Mental health is indispensable to personal well-being, family and interpersonal relationships and contribution to community or society. In other words, what it means to be mentally healthy is subject to many different interpretations that are rooted in value judgments that may vary across cultures (Secker 1998, Cowen 1994).

Mental health in Uganda is not a well known phenomenon due to high illiteracy rates, limited research and low levels of public sensitization. However closely looking at the current mental health situation in Uganda, one wonders for how long we can continue ignoring it since research has shown that from early childhood until death, mental health is the springboard of thinking and communication skills, learning, emotional growth, resilience and self-esteem. These are important ingredients of each individual’s successful contribution to community and society.

It should be noted that mental health is a facet of life that evolves throughout one’s life time. Just as each person can do much to promote and maintain their overall health regardless of age, each also can do much to promote and strengthen mental health at every stage of life.

Much remains to be learned about the causes, treatment and prevention of mental and behavioral disorders. Obstacles that may limit the availability or accessibility of mental health services for some Ugandans are being dismantled, but disparities persist, which need to be tackled. Thanks to research and the experiences of many individuals who

have /have had a mental health problem, their family members, and other advocates, we are achieving the power to tear down the most formidable obstacle to future progress in the arena of mental health and illness. That obstacle is stigma.

It is now evident that we have acquired an immense amount of knowledge that permits us to respond to the needs of persons with mental illness in a manner that is both effective and respectful. We should add to this knowledge and share it with others if we are gearing at realistic and commendable solutions to Uganda ’s current mental health situation.

In past years, the mental health field often focused principally on mental illness in order to serve individuals who were most severely affected. Only recently has the field matured to respond to intensifying interests and concerns about disease prevention and health promotion. Because of the more recent consideration of these topic areas, the body of accumulated knowledge regarding them is as expansive as that for mental illness. This if given more consideration may see Uganda ’s mental health situation improving.

Research can yield increasingly effective treatment for mental disorders. When people understand that mental disorders are not the result of moral failings or limited will power, but are legitimate illnesses that are responsive to specific treatments, much of the negative stereotyping may dissipate. Fresh approaches to disseminate research information and thus, to counter stigma will help very much in reforming Uganda ’s mental health situation.

As stigma abates, a transformation in public attitudes occurs, people become eager to seek care, they become more willing to absorb its costs and most importantly, they become far more receptive to the massages of mental health and mental illness as part of the mainstream of health and they are a concern for all people.

As a solution to Uganda’s mental health situation, we need to first and foremost know the statistics we are dealing with, i.e, number and distribution of disorders, their cause like work place related stress, trauma from wars, diseases and drug abuse, and their effects on individuals, families and colleagues. All these define the mental health situation in Uganda more accurately.

With realization that mental illness is a situation here with us and appreciation of the fact that ignoring it will only cause more harm than good, we have to find appropriate ways of dealing with it in terms of prevention and cure.

These measures may include knowing how many mental health practitioners we need, formulating the necessary training for such practitioners, designing the appropriate equipment and conducive environment for treating the mentally ill people, designing new methods of therapy and including the public in active participation in solving Uganda’s current mental health situation.

The fact that mental health is underestimated and its magnitude not appreciated, we need to find out why this is the case in the first place and to create avenues for general understanding and appreciation of the mental health situation in the country. This should be basically through research and public sensitization.

Writing papers and reports on mental health brings out a lot of information that may attract the attention of possible donors and raise interest in many people who get to read such information. Increased interest and funding of mental health issues will greatly improve the mental health situation in Uganda through increased support of mental health programs.

Considering the above mentioned issues, it is this author’s contention that accepting mental health as just another illness is the most important step towards a viable mental health solution for the country, with this, stigma abates and then together we can fight mental health problems through preventive and curative measures for a mentally healthy Uganda .

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