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It Starts With Us – Speaker Among Rallies Parliament on Mental Health

Rose Obigah, Anita Among and Geofrey Macho listening to an exihibitor at the mental health camp. Courtesy Photo

More than 20 organisations advocating for better mental health services across the country staged camp in the parliamentary gardens for two days. The mental health Goliath had to be stoned down.

Tents towered with different banners and flags of the knights of mental health within and without Kampala. All united in the name of raising awareness at Parliament of Uganda.

They felt the pinching mental health arrows should be pulled down from the parliamentary chambers. Chamber decisions and actions that can make a difference in the fight. A fight that has cost individuals, families, with its wounds prominently felt by the whole nation through the killings, suicides and odd behaviors exhibited in the communities.

From tent to tent you met different knights in the battle for better mental health dealing in several aspects of mental illnesses like addictions, depressions, and trauma. Some targeted refugees who suffer a mammoth of mental health challenges. Others looked at women, the youth and employees and workplaces.

The Parliamentary Forum on Mental Health and the National Working Group on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (NWG-MPSS) organized the pioneer two-day mental health camp.

Speaker Anita Among graced the event and made it clear that it must start with legislators and that parliament will offer full support on the cause of mental health in the country.

“We need to start with ourselves to make sure that when we are legislating for the people, we are mentally stable – that is a priority. Before we talk about checking others, we shall first check ourselves,” she said.

Among also revealed that parliament has appropriated money for mental health in the next budget and called for a program to encourage the population to have mental assessments.

The mental health budget is less than three percent of the national health budget. Yet according to reports, more than 14 million Ugandans are struggling with mental illnesses. An increment of the budget would further strengthen the fight for good mental health.

She pointed out the spiraling gun-down-incidents in the country noting that most of the perpetrators had and were dealing with some form of mental illness.

“Within one month, we have lost lives arising from aspects of depression, poverty, unemployment, stress, drug addiction and alcohol,” she said, adding “Because we have all these problems in Uganda, we are going to make sure that people are screened for mental health.”

Annet Nakyo, the coordinator of the Parliamentary Forum on Mental Health, said it was necessary for the parliament to be opened up for the public and raise awareness against the silent killer.

“Since May is the international mental health awareness month, this camp is a platform that opens the parliament to the public and the public to the policy makers. Through this we can fight as a group against the silent killer.”

She also said that the mental health camp will be an annual event to promote mental health within the parliament and in the community.

Grace Obalim, the national coordinator for the National Working Group on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support, noted that the legislators are responsible for formulating mental health friendly policies for their constituents.

“We set out to give the correct information on mental health to the legislators. When they know, they are able to legislate policies that are community friendly and relatable,” Obalim said.

She also believes through such camps the legislators can influence their constituents to change behaviours. “When they have the right information, this can help increase good behaviours that promote good mental health. On the other hand, bad behaviours are reduced,” she said.

Obalim also noted that this camp was a forerunner of the second national mental health conference scheduled for Wednesday, May 24 to Friday, May 26, 2023. These are part of the many events aimed at raising awareness and advocacy for mental health.

Some of the organisations present were: Butabika Hospital, TPO, AVSI, Strong Minds, Safe Space, Triumph Uganda, Uganda Counselling Association, Strides of Hope Foundation, Daala, Breakfree, Life back Foundation and many more

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