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Alcohol, drug abuse fueling mental health illness in Uganda

Mental Health Unit at Gulu Referral Hospital. Photo by Caroline Ayugi

Gulu, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT |  Mental Health Uganda (MHU) is concerned about the rampant cases of mental illness in the country resulting from alcohol and drug abuse. 

Mental Health Uganda is an advocacy organization for people that use mental health services. Derrick Kiiza, the Executive Director of Mental Health Uganda says that a preliminary survey conducted in 14 regional referral hospitals by the organization during the lock down found that nine out of ten cases of mental health illness are related to alcohol and drug abuse.

Kiiza disclosed that nine out of the eleven beds in the hospitals reserved for mental health service seekers had patients whose conditions resulted from alcoholism and substance abuse.    

Some of the substances being abused by the population include Marijuana, cocaine and alcohol especially in West Nile and the Northern Region.

He says that the other factors contributing to mental health illness are poverty and HIV/AIDS. Records from Mental Health Uganda indicate that 34% of every Ugandan regardless of age and gender has suffered from mental illness while one out of four people have suffered or is suffering from mental illness, according to WHO.

Kiiza disclosed this at the Northern Uganda Media Club (NUMEC) in Gulu City while addressing journalists on the status of mental health services in Uganda. He appealed to the local and central governments to extend support towards mental health services, saying the situation is still very bad.

On the other hand, J.J Paul Nyeko, the Coordinator Mental Health Uganda in Gulu which has partnered with Gulu Regional Referral Hospital, said that cases of mental health illness in Northern Region is alarming.  He explained that majority of the cases manifest through suicide and Post Stress and Traumatic Disorders (PTSD) among other complications.   

Nyeko says that the situation has been worsened by the nationwide Covid-19 pandemic, which affected access to mental health services, increased poverty, caused stress and distress as well as domestic violence. At Gulu Mental Health Department more than 60 people are admitted monthly with mental illness triggered by overindulgence in illicit drugs and alcohol. 

A 2016 study on alcohol use among adults found that the prevalence of alcohol use was highest in the northern region at 23.2 percent, followed by the Western region with 21.4 per cent, central 18.5 per cent while eastern region had the lowest prevalence of 13.7 percent.

Miriam Apiyo, a mental health client decried stigmatization and abuse of persons with mental disabilities by members of society.

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