UCU nursing graduates seek to fill gap in Ugandan mental health care
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2019/06/ucu-nursing-graduates-seek-to-fill-gap-in-ugandan-mental-health-care/
By Douglas Olum
When Conrad Ochola suffered depression in 2017, he heard a voice in his head instructing him to strip naked.
He walked before his elder sister with whom he lived and threw down his clothes. The abnormal action shocked not only the sister but also the rest of the family. They were not aware that Ochola, then a new graduate of Uganda Christian University (UCU), had battled his mental state for some time. He hadn’t slept for months, with strange voices constantly screaming in his head. One of the voices persuaded him to throw himself in a pit latrine. He survived because the hole leading into the pit was too small to swallow him.
Through those months, Ochola, suffering in part due to the loss of his mother, lived in fear of death, saw things in twos and dodged meals because every time he ate, he would feel pain as though he was eating his own body parts. He never told anybody.
It was when the 24-year-old stripped naked that the family came to realize that he indeed needed mental health care. They rushed him to Butabika National Referral Mental Hospital, where he was diagnosed with depression. After months of medication in this only such facility in Uganda, Ochola recovered.
Ochola, a marketing executive at a Uganda investment company called Xeno, is an example of how proper mental health assistance can make a positive difference.
Daniel Ojok, a high school graduate, wasn’t so fortunate. He crashed himself onto a speeding truck in December 2018 along the Gulu-Juba highway, days after dropping suicide hints that nobody got. The late Ojok is like millions of Ugandans who need mental healthcare but do not get it.
One mass example is in northern Uganda where thousands still suffer the traumatic consequences of the two-decade Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency, hundreds have committed suicide and more still continue to do.
A recent World Health Organisation (WHO) report indicates that at least 1.7 million Ugandans (about 4.6% of the total population) suffer from depressive disorders and another 3% suffer from anxiety. Depressive disorder is a condition characterized by sadness, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, feelings of tiredness and poor concentration. Two years ago, the WHO ranked Uganda among the top six African countries heavily affected by mental health issues.
The Uganda Protestant Medical Bureau (UPMB), a charitable and technical national umbrella organization, reports that 98% of people with mental health issues in the country do not have access to care.
The problem is attributed to lack of community-based psychiatric care facilities, poverty that incapacitates many families from taking their mentally ill members for medication and the misconception that mentally ill people are connected to witchcraft, the latter often subjecting victims to rituals that, unfortunately,cause further harm to their mental states.
Butabika Hospital currently has up to 900 patients – double its capacity. A Butabika nurse who spoke on condition of anonymity said most times the extra patients are admitted because they have no where else to go.
Often, those afflicted with mental health issues roam the streets. Men and women dressed in rags, with dirty, twisted hair and many times carrying sacks of rubbish, stroll along streets of urban places across the country or seated in isolated places, mumbling junks of sentences.
Training institutions such as the Uganda Christian University aim to lessen the Butabika overload and the number of victims on the streets. The department of Nursing, for instance, is equipping student nurses with psychiatric nursing skills. Throughout their final semester of studies, students pursuing the Bachelor of Nursing Science, spend at least a day every week serving and learning at the Butabika Mental Hospital.
Mrs. Jemimah Mary Mutabazi, the head of the Department of Nursing at UCU, said as a department, they have been teaching mental health since the approval of their curriculum in 2006.
“It is part of curriculum because we want to equip our nurses with skills that enable them provide holistic care to their clients. Nurses work with people of different kinds including mentally ill patients and we want them to be able to handle all cases professionally,” Mutabazi said.
For more of these stories and experiences by and about Uganda Christian University (UCU) programs, students and graduates, visit https://www.ugandapartners.org. If you would like to support UCU, contact Mark Bartels, Executive Director, UCU Partners, at email@example.com or go to https://www.ugandapartners.org/donate/