Kampala, Uganda | FLAVIA NASSAKA – URN | Psychiatrists have raised concern over a high number of people presenting with symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after they conducted random screening in selected villages in central Uganda.
Dr. Dickens Akena, a psychiatrist who led the team of researchers told journalists attending the results dissemination meeting that almost one in five adult Ugandans living in urban areas has PTSD, with some also battling alcohol abuse or depression.
“There were high cases of PTSD and alcohol use disorders. A lot of people with depresion also have anxiety disorders and vice versa. This is important for policy. When you are assesing someone with depression, also assess for alcohol and PTSD,” Dr Akena said.
This mental health condition is triggered by a terrifying event such as war or torture either experienced or witnessed by the sufferer. Experts say sufferers of the condition may experience symptoms ranging from flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event and Akena says majority of the respondents they found in the community had not sought healthcare for their condition because they weren’t aware that they are actually sick.
“We were interested in knowing if high levels of stigma and low levels of mental health knowledge reported in sub-Saharan Africa would be associatied with mental disorders. High levels of stigma is an important barrier to access to mental health services. Because of stigma, many will not report mental health symtoms,” Dr Akena said.
In this study, Makerere University-based scientists were assessing prevalence and factors associated with mental disorders in a community setting in areas of central Uganda where they visited villages in Kampala, Mukono, Masaka and Wakiso and got responses from 814 participants.
At a prevalence of 23%, Akena says this is alarming as this is higher than what other researchers have previously documented in non-conflict communities. He said such figures are usually picked when similar surveys are done among conflict and refugee populations.
One of the possible explanations for these findings he notes is the pre-election riots in Kampala and the neighboring districts in November 2020 where communities witnessed violence in exchanges between security operatives and members of the public. For him, people faced multiple traumas as they were just recovering from the anxiety that came with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Commenting about the findings, Dr. Noeline Nakasujja a lecturer in the department of psychiatry at Makerere University’s College of Health Sciences said there is need to create awareness to ensure that people seek appropriate care for their mental health challenges.
She warns that documented cases in the study could develop full blown PTSD which if poorly managed can result into low productivity and suicide in severe cases.
“If you are anxious over an issue, after 3 months you should be able to have overcome them,” she said. Apart from those who were involved in metting out violence, she hoped many will have forgotten the events of November 2020 after two years.
However, apart from PTSD, the study that was funded by Uganda government through the Makerere University’s Research and Innovations Fund (MAKRIF) also assessed the prevalence of conditions such as depressive disorders, substance use disorders and generalized anxiety disorders.