Uganda is now ranked sixth on the African continent among countries with the highest number of mental disorders according to the Ministry of Health.
Dr. Hafsa Lukwata, the Assistant Commissioner for Mental Health and Control of Substance Use says that according to data from regional and referral hospitals that reported a spike in numbers of cases in their respective facilities. She added that at the beginning of 2023, preliminary findings from a mini survey conducted in schools and communities indicated that very many people unknowingly suffered from anxiety at sixty eight percent (68%) among the rural population and depression among children of school going age.
“We are getting reports that the number of people that are reporting for mental illness has actually gone up and it is rightly so because we are seeing whatever is happening in the country, the economic crunch, people not making ends meet, a lot of debts and people borrowing money and not being able to return.”
Relatedly, civil society organisations advocating for mental help have implored the government to further invest in community mental health that intends to bring closer mental health treatment to the grass roots. They have also recommended the introduction of national health insurance schemes which they opine will increase access and utilisation of the care at the same time reducing the cost of access to health care.
Derrick Mbuga Kizza, the executive director Mental Health Uganda further asked the government to invest more in task shifting as it empowers lower cadres i.e. non-specialised health workers to do primary diagnosis and support referral for many people with mental health problems among others.
Mr. Mbuga notes that at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic in Uganda, mental health clinics at regional referral hospitals were turned into Covid-19 treatment centers, which hindered people with mental health-related problems from accessing services at these facilities, adding that as a result many of the patients relapsed and many new cases were recorded.
The World Mental health Day is celebrated every 10th October but for Uganda the day was postponed to 31st October due to the Independence Day celebrations.
On average, Butabika Hospital, which is the only national referral hospital Uganda has, receives about 500 patients annually. However, the facility had treated 1,500 patients by September 2020 which was attributed to various factors including the Covid-19 pandemic. The number is reportedly higher as per the 2022 report due to Covid-19 after-shocks like hard economic times on a large number of the population which has driven many into depression.