Is mental ill-health the new pandemic?

On December 30, 2020, Representative Jamie Raskin (D) Maryland lost his 25-year-old son to suicide. 

Tommy Raskin, a budding law student at Harvard Law School, his father’s alma mater was described by his family and peers as a light in this world that in 2020 had become overcome with darkness.

Six days after his untimely death, the demagogue that had been at the helm of political power of the United States incited an insurrection at The US Capitol, an event we certainly won’t forget in our lifetime. 

Barely six days after a violent insurrection that dared to challenge 200 years of American democracy, Rep Raskin selflessly led, managed and drafted impeachment articles against then-President Donald Trump, sill grieving his son.

While this event seems far from home for us here in Uganda, it highlights an already existing collective traumatic experience that we are facing globally with a pandemic amplified by the shifts in global governance and climate change, among other catastrophes known and unforseen.

Uganda is no exception at this point in time as we collectively experience this trauma. 

The unsavoury political climate we are currently facing with our democratic and electoral processes that has left several dead, arbitrary arrests, suppression of free speech at a time when we are barely managing the Covid-19 pandemic that has left many Ugandans dead with limited to no medical resources to eradicate the pandemic.

The trauma we are facing globally and here in Uganda, has had a profound impact on our mental and emotional wellbeing, which is anticipated to have far-reaching consequences as we try to move forward not just as a nation, but globally. 

According to WHO, mental health is a state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. 

Crisis, conflict and health challenges have the undoubted ability to inflict long-term trauma and exacerbate other mental health conditions within the community that may be afflicted such as ours at this point in time. Mental ill-heath is considered as one of the leading causes of disability worldwide, with these numbers even higher in low and middle-income countries such as our own.

Covid-19 saw an exponential increase in mental ill-health world over with a reported 200 per cent increase in suicide and an estimate of 500 per cent increase to patient admissions and hospital visits due to mental health-related challenges. 

With an estimated nine million Ugandans dealing with a mental health issue, the majority of whom remain undiagnosed and untreated, we expect this number to rise exponentially with only one trained psychiatrist for every one million Ugandans.

As we continue to battle the worst health emergency of our generation, the Ministry of Health needs to act fast by incorporating mental health support and counselling for survivors of Covid and their loved ones to combat the stigma that has emerged as an even bigger problem as those suspected with Covid-19 are shying away from testing and seeking treatment for the fear of being castigated by their communities. 

Funding for mental health remains a major challenge in Uganda with only 0.5 per cent of the national healthcare budget allocated to mental health every financial year, an estimated $2.25m every year that goes into 500 beds at Butabika Hospital, the only national psychiatric hospital in Uganda. 

While Uganda remains 10 years behind the more advance countries in terms of access to mental healthcare as a key component in the healthcare system such as the UK and the NHS, there is a lot that can be done in collaborative efforts between the public and private sector to mitigate this looming pandemic. 

Comprehensive policy implementation to ensure that every health centre has first-line support personnel is one way through which we can leap forward as a nation in handling the mental health pandemic on our hands.

This article originally appeared on

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Written by Liz Kakooza (0)

Liz Nabakooza Kakooza is a mental health advocate and founder of MindLab, a communications professional and an advisory member at the World Economic Forum.

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