By Jimmy Odoki
According the World Health Organization (WHO), one in four people will be affected by mental or neurological disorder at some point in their lives. Currently around 450 million people globally have such conditions and the situation has been worsened by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
It is therefore very important that the theme for World Mental Health Day, to be commemorated on October 10, 2020, as chosen by World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) is; Mental Health for All
There needs to be more investment in mental health in order for more people to access mental health care whenever and wherever they need it from.
The Coronavirus pandemic that led to a new normal such as social distancing and constant need to wear face masks and washing of hands had its impact on the mental health of many people.
Anxiety as result of fear of contracting COVID-19 among front line medical workers as well as from watching news coverage that showed the death of thousands of people from Coronavirus shot up. Depression, alcohol and drug addiction cases went up.
The national referral mental referral hospital in Butabika had its rate of admission double according to the acting Executive Director, Dr Juliet Nakku, who revealed this in an interview.
The increasing cases of mental health challenges especially in women during this pandemic has become a source of concern.
During the interview, Dr. Nakku said that; “Out of the over 350 women admitted to Butabika, 25% cases are as a result of drug abuse. This has terrible impact on families and in some instances leading to divorce.”
She added that; “What do we learn from the Coronavirus pandemic and the need for mental health services in our communities. How much does government budget for mental health care in their annual budget. Over the years it has been reported that only 1% of the Ministry of Health budget is assigned to take care of mental health needs in the entire country. If Mental Health for All is to be taken seriously and not just a jargon then will that budgetary allocation meet the needs of Ugandans?”
Without mental health, we can not achieve much and the government loses lots of money in unexplored potential of people with mental health challenges who cannot access treatment.
The emphasis for most governments has been on treating mostly physical health and not much attention to mental health. This should change quickly to save the future of many young people through this Coronavirus pandemic.
Mental Health for all means that it must be an integral part of the Universal Health Coverage (UHC).
Health Insurance should provide for mental health care as well. The proposal to have health insurance for all citizens should not discriminate what kind of illness is treated like some private health insurance have issues providing mental health care. The West provides very good mental health care to it citizens. African governments should endeavor to provide better mental health care to its people.
Mental Health for All means that government should alleviate those conditions that mental illnesses. Usually unemployment of people especially the young people leads to stress resulting to mental health challenges in people who are not resilient. Therefore tackling the challenge should not be about a medical approach only.
The Coronavirus pandemic has exposed the lack of investment in mental health care which I in the article. The mental health of billions of people have been affected as as a result of COVID-19 pandemic. Looking at suicide alone before the pandemic, a life was being lost every forty seconds by suicide. How much more did it get it worse as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic?
How much are we investing in mental health care now? There needs to be more investment in mental health services to avert a crisis as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Some World leaders, celebrities and influential people have embraced the need to create more awareness on mental health issues in order achieve Mental Health for All. Lady Gaga, Demi Lovato and other international artists have been doing advocacy for mental health.
Alastair Campbell, former Communications Director of former UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair has openly discussed and written about his mental health challenges hence the mental health awareness message by influential people reaching to a big population.
In Uganda Bishop Zac Niringye should be lauded on behalf the clergy for speaking openly about mental health challenges during this pandemic. He has moderated a number of zoom meetings on mental health matters with a panel of very experienced mental health practioners . The challenge in the past has been with religious leaders emphasizing only prayers even for people with depression, anxiety and other mental health illnesses.
World leaders who have understood the need for mental health for all are the kind of leaders the modern world needs. Mental health can’t be ignored anymore like it has been in the past. Both our physical health and mental health are equally important. This calls for more investment in mental health for easy accessibility of mental health services in the entire country
Mental Health for All is possible when people have a better understanding of the “new normal”. There is urgent need for more mental health awareness.
It is impressive that the social media mental health advocates, like ExposedUganda.com are raising awareness.
However the mental awareness campaigns have to reach the countryside so that we can have mental health for all.
Odoki Jimmy Acellam (Coordinator Heartsounds Uganda/Mental Health Advocate)
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