ARUA. As Ugandan celebrate 56 years of independence, Edaku community primary school in Arua district marks 55 years of existence without a roof on the miserly classroom blocks.
Community misconceptions, Drug and alcohol abuse fuelling rise in mental health sicknesses.
Ms Scovia Enzaru, (not real names), a midwifery student in one of the institutions in Arua district has battled mental complications for the last four years.
Her diagnosis at the mental health department of Arua regional referral hospital indicates mental depression that has made her a regular at this facility, she says failure to adhere to the strict medication prescriptions leads to a relapse.
Despite this major setback that makes her dizzy most of the time of the medication, Enzaru is hoping to complete her midwifery studies in 2019 and asks any other person faced with similar conditions to comply with the medication prescriptions.
Similarly, Mr Nelson Acidri (not real names) a teacher from Bileafe Sub County had just got a job with an aid organization in the refugee settlement when he started seeing signs like lighting and hearing strange things. Unfortunately, his own relatives ignored all his pleas for attention instead blaming him for drunkenness. He is now recovering from Arua regional referral hospital after his condition worsened at the resumption of his new teaching job.
The two patients are part of hundreds of people that seek services here in the department of mental health that experts say is becoming busier by the day.
Experts have as a result called on a concerted effort to deal with the drivers of the mental cases in West Nile region.
“People should know that mental illnesses are just like any other disease and all such cases should therefore be taken to health units”, Mr Omar Candia, the mental health department head at Arua regional referral hospital says, on the day of the global mental health.
Candia’s plea comes at the wake of increasing cases in the region; He says the major causes of mental health illnesses in the region are drug and alcohol abuse, depression, Epilepsy, adolescent behavioural problems among others. He says youth between the ages of 15-35 form the bulk of these patients and chiefly due to substance abuse.
The world mental health day observed every 10th of October has an overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of the same.
It is intended to provide an opportunity for mental health workers to talk about their work and offer recommendations on what needs to be done to make mental health a reality for all people across the world.
According to the American psychiatric association, mental illnesses are health conditions involving changes in thinking, emotion, behaviour or a combination of these and are classified in more than 200 forms.
Candia says communities have also been hit hard with misconceptions because of little information in the society.
“Some people believe mental illness is caused by a curse, failure to pay dowry, and we are the last option; most times the attendants end up regretting and begin to lament”, he states.
The department receives between 5-10 new cases daily, 5-7 admissions and 30-50 cases who come to refill their medicine daily.
Candia says Arua district leads in the cases but others like Nebbi, Maracha, Yumbe and Moyo follow which he says could partly be because of long distance.
Smaller facilities at the districts and lower health units are ideally expected to have basic set up to manage mental cases but these, Candia says are not well managed and equipped.
The referral hospital unit is also grappling with its own challenges, out of the expected seven psychiatric Clinical officers and 10 nurses, the department has only 3 Psychiatric clinical officers one of who by press time is for a sick leave; two of the four nurses are expected to retire at the end of the year, a phenomenon that is likely to overstretch the available staff.
In May 2018, Dr David Basangwa, the executive director of Butabika national mental health referral hospital said majority of the patients admitted at the facility were University and high school students due to alcohol and drug abuse. He was quoted to have lamented on the increasing numbers.
Candia appeals to members of the public to timely report any suspected cases of mental health illness to the nearest health units for adequate management before escalation.
In 2011, the world health Organization estimated a shortage of 1.18 million mental health professionals including 55,000 psychiatrists, 628,000 nurses in mental health settings and 493,000 psycho social care providers needed to treat mental disorders in 144 low and middle income countries. It stated that the average wage bill to remove such a workforce shortage was estimated at US$4.4billion.