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Mental illness rising

Inpatients engage in a physical health awareness session at Butabika hospital. Experts say recovery from mental health problems require more than just medicine.

New WHO report shows Uganda among hardest hit countries in the world

Many Ugandans do not know about mental illness – they only know “madness”. They use the word to describe someone who is possibly running wild, throwing stones, attacking people, or engaging in some bizarre and scary activity.

But what if that person was previously jolly and active but starts living a quiet and clearly sad life in constant fear of, for example, losing a loved one?  They might even have constant headache, and talk repeatedly about their fear to whomever cares to listen – often forgetting that they already told you about it.What about if that happens soon after the person loses a loved one, say in accident?

Both are cases of mental illness; the first violent type is what doctors call a manic disorder or episode while the latter could be any of several mental illnesses, including what are grouped as depression or anxiety disorders. Ugandans will most likely not describe the latter as mental illnesses.

That is why many Ugandans might have a hard time understanding what a new report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that says Uganda has among the highest number of mentally ill people in Africa means.

The report says 4.6% of Ugandans suffer from depressive disorders and 2.8% suffer from anxiety disorders.

Released on Feb.23 and titled “Depression and other common mental disorders: Global Health Estimates”, the report says depression is the largest single mental health problem and a major contributor to suicide deaths whose number is close to 800,000 per year.  Depression also contributes 7.5% to global disability. And the report says, there has been an increase in mental illness by 18% worldwide.

It also shows the number of people living with depression was estimated to exceed 300 million in 2015 globally with the majority coming from low and middle income countries.

Of the 50 African countriesWHO ranked, Uganda was among the top five countries with the highest number of people suffering from depressive disorders. The highest number, among countries surveyed, was from Cape Verde (4.9%),Lesotho (4.8%), Ethiopia (4.7%), and Botswana (4.7%).

Reacting to the report, Dr. Joshua Makiika Tugumisirize, a psychiatrist based at Makerere University said the number of mentally ill people in Uganda could be even higher.

He said: “WHO just looked at the average picture. The problem is bigger than that. People don’t know that they are sick and many especially those in villages still believe mental illness is not a disease of the hospital. Patients are chained and hid or taken to shrines”.

He said WHO based their conclusions on only those who seek medical care.

Depressive disorders which at most severe can lead to death are characterised by sadness, loss of interest in things that were prior to pleasurable, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, feelings of tiredness, and poor concentration which can substantially affect one’s ability to work, study or cope with daily life.

On the other hand, anxiety disorders involve feelings of fear including Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

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