UGANDA: Mental health cases on the rise -Butabika Hospital boss

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Officials from Butabika Hospital say the facility registered the high number of patients ever this year; Courtesy Photo

Butabika Mental National Referral Hospital has registered 1500 patients, the highest number of patients received at the facility in a year.

According to the Executive Director, Dr. Juliet Nakku, the facility had treated 1500 patients by September this year, the highest number of admissions ever. On average, Dr Nakku says, Butabika receives about 500 patients annually.

Nakku made the revelation at a meeting to celebrate the World Mental Health Day commemorated on 10th October every year.

Dr. Nakku says the high number of admissions can be attributed to various factors including the Covid-19 global pandemic. She also reported that the facility registered more relapses from the communities.

She called for more funding for mental health saying the pandemic has exposed the need in the area.

The pandemic, according to experts has caused anxiety among the public and worsened the situation for people with existing mental health issues.

Dr. Hasifa Nkwata, the commissioner in charge of mental health at the Ministry of health highlighted the urgent need for money, saying they recently registered a stock out of mental health drugs which prompted some patients to return to drugs they had moved away from. Government allocates Shillings 1 billion to mental health annually, which experts say is very little depending on the available needs.

Nkwata says they need more finances because of the increasing number of patients and the expected relapses since Covid-19 is affecting people’s mental health.

Dr. Hillary Giremaso from the Psychiatric Association of Uganda says there is need to invest in human resource if mental health services are to reach more people.

He says currently there are only 46 psychiatrists in the country attending to millions of patients.

According to World Health Organization, there is a reduction of funding to mental health in many countries as focus shifted to Covid-19, which exacerbated an already bad situation.

The WHO country representative, Dr Yonas Tegegn says government needs to make mental health an integral part of the pandemic and increase funding since the citizenry is more vulnerable due to the pandemic.

The experts have also called for more community engagements such that not all cases of mental health are referred to hospital.

The majority of national mental health funding is invested in the national mental health hospital at Butabika Uganda’s largest mental health care facility.

Established in 1955 and with slightly more than 500 beds, there is frequently overcrowding. Its annual budget is US$2.25 million and it has approximately 430 staff (Emerald Project, 2016). There are no reserved areas for children but facilities for juveniles are in other centers.

Significant concerns have been raised about conditions, including detention without assessment, the prolonged and dehumanizing use of seclusion, and very low levels of specialist staffing.

Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including, biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry, life experiences such as trauma or abuse as well as family history of mental health problems.

Symptoms of mental illness include eating or sleeping too much or too little, avoiding people and usual activities, low or no energy, or having excessive non-constructive energy, unexplained aches and pains, feeling helpless or hopeless, smoking ,drinking or using drugs more than usual and feeling unusually confused, forgetful on edge, angry, upset, worried or scared.

Mental disorders can however be triggered by alcohol and drug use, loss of someone, accidents, work related challenges, financial challenges and many others. The commonest examples of mental problems include drug abuse, depression, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive –compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and epilepsy.

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