"Mental health is a fundamental right"
In collaboration with Alternative Care Initiatives and Makerere University Kampala, Child’s i Foundation is rolling out an awareness-building youth mental wellbeing project, with the generous support of Grand Challenges Canada.
This bold initiative seeks to pilot an integrated community wellbeing project led by young people with lived experience of care that will support a further 1,170 young people to access peer and wellbeing support in areas where this has never happened before.
To commemorate World Mental Health Day 2021, we bring you an interview with Grace Atim, the lead psychologist on this project. Grace is passionate about mental health and has worked to support children, youth and families to deal with and overcome mental health issues for over 10 years. Hear from Grace as she gives insights on mental health, its challenges and the misconceptions which she has encountered around mental health.
1. What is mental health and how does it affect our wellbeing?
Mental health is increasingly becoming a global concern. Uganda is ranked among the top six countries in Africa with depressive disorders (4.6% Miller et al, 2020), while 2.9% live with anxiety disorders (WHO, 2017).
Mental health refers to the cognitive behaviour and emotional wellbeing of a person. Having good mental health is related to the social, emotional and physical wellbeing of individuals and communities. A good mental state keeps you healthy, preventing serious health conditions and the reverse is true.
2. What stigma have you encountered around mental health issues in your work?
Mental health stigma arises mainly from stereotypes. Stereotypes enable us to respond rapidly to situations due to our familiarity with the experience, however, they hinder our full understanding of a situation because we make assumptions rather than base on the facts being displayed. Some of the assumptions made when people present with mental health challenges include but are not limited to;
a) Someone with depression is considered lazy.
b) Someone presenting with anxiety is considered a coward.
c) Someone who presents with confusion and incoherence is considered an attention seeker.
d) A person with an addiction is labelled as a person with moral failing.
e) Suicidal people are labelled as weak.
f) Substance users and abusers are considered a loss to society and unredeemable.
g) People grieving are told to get over it. They are considered weak and annoying and yet they need comfort.
h) Anyone who seeks professional assistance for their mental health problems is crazy.
3. What are the common myths and misconceptions about mental health?
Over the years, I have encountered several misconceptions regarding mental health. Borrowing from the Ugandan perspective;
· Mental health is considered a result of witchcraft.
· Anxiety and panic attacks cause death.
· People with mental health challenges are believed not to be productive.
· In some cases, mental health challenges have been considered a sign of weakness.
· Doing therapy implies you are mentally unstable or mad.
· There is a myth that mental health issues are contagious.
· Mental health problems are permanent.
Communities and individuals with the above assumptions and misconceptions can be educated on mental health to help them better understand.
"Mental health stigma arises mainly from stereotypes. Stereotypes enable us to respond rapidly to situations due to our familiarity with the experience, however, they hinder our full understanding of a situation because we make assumptions rather than base on the facts being displayed." Grace Atim
4. What recommendations do you give individuals, families and communities to enable them to support the people who are dealing with mental health challenges?
Personally, I would recommend interventions discussing mental health issues and encourage individuals who show characteristics of mental health challenges to seek professional and guidance. I would also encourage self-care activities such as;
· Eating a balanced diet.
· Regular exercises.
· Avoiding psychoactive substances.
· Talking about your feelings.
· Asking for help when you are overwhelmed.
· Accepting oneself including your strengths and weaknesses.
· Supporting each other. Surround yourself with positive people.
· Get sufficient rest.
· Be kind to yourself.
5. What is the one thing you would like us to know about mental health?
Mental health is a fundamental right and should not be compared but rather dealt with based on the individual and their surroundings.