We had three members give testimonies about their experience with mental illness, two of them mental health service users and the third a mother to a service user. They spoke about the challenges they faced in finding quality mental health care and the people who helped them along the way. Our final speaker, Robinah Alumbuya, who first experienced mental illness as a teenager, dedicated most of her speech to the issue of stigma. “We suffer a psychosocial disability,” she explained. “Maybe 10% is caused by illness, but 90% is caused by stigma and discrimination in our communities.” This is a problem that many members can attest to, having been passed over for jobs, loans, or socially isolated because of mental illness.
Robinah also had an important message about how to deal with stigma and promote mental health. “Nothing about us, without us.” Unfortunately, mental health treatment and programming (both in Uganda and globally) often develop based on the opinions of doctors, clinicians, “experts”. There is a growing understanding that it is also essential to include service users in the decision-making processes that directly effect them.
Later in the program, Dr. Seggane Musisi, the key note speaker, discussed the best approach for non-service users to take in promoting mental health. Friendship. He told a story of a service user, who happened to come to his clinic not wearing any clothes. Dr. Musisi shocked everyone at the clinic when he led the man to his care to drive him to the hospital. People couldn’t believe that a distinguished doctor would associate with a “mad person”. These types of actions, Dr. Musisi explained, are what begins changing people’s minds about mental illness.
I was lucky enough to have my Mama here for the opening, but now that she’s gone we’re back down to business. This week we are voting in a new Executive Council for Atanekontola, and pushing forward to make all of the new programming we’ve been doing permanent. With my departure only 2 weeks away it will be busy, but hopefully as successful as the opening.