World Mental Health Day

10th October, is designed to raise public awareness about mental health issues, and was first celebrated in 1992 at the initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health, a global mental health organisation. Each October thousands of supporters worldwide come together to celebrate this annual awareness program designed to bring attention to mental health and the major effects of mental illness on peoples’ lives world wide. This year’s theme is “Investing in Mental Health”.
Refugees manifest high levels of mental ill health, yet this has yet to draw significant attention on world mental health day. Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD), depression, and anxiety disorders are manifestations of the terrible experiences many have been through, whether prior to leaving their country of origin, during their flight to safety, or in their place of asylum. Many of the Refugee Law Project’s clients need psychotherapy and psychiatric interventions to improve on their mental health, but access to these interventions remains a huge challenge.
The primary one is that Uganda does not prioritise mental health for its own citizens, let alone for refugees. As a result there is low awareness on mental illness, response and where to go for treatment. Additionally there are few staff competent in handling mental health problems. The National Mental Referral Hospital at Butabika has only 2 clinical psychologists and 8 psychiatrists, while the National Referral Hospital at Mulago has less than 10 psychiatrists and no clinical psychologist. This in a country with 33 million inhabitants.
Many in the various refugee communities are not aware of mental ill health, do not know how to support those affected and even where to take them for treatment. Some, believing that the ill-health is caused by evil spirits, revert to traditional healers in their search for remedies. Refugees’ in most case have low or no income and cannot afford transport to hospitals and health centres which are situated far from where they live, are unable to purchase drugs that have been prescribed but not provided, and cannot afford the regular meals which are prerequisite before administering psychotropic drugs. The few refugees, who are able to access Uganda’s limited mental health services, are confronted by language barriers, which hinder proper access to services, errors in diagnoses, prescriptions, and instructions on how to use drugs.
Addressing refugee mental health thus remains a big task, but the Refugee Law Project seeks to improve refugee access to mental health services through the provision of counselling services, including a clinical psychologist who addresses psychological problems, and through availing community interpreters to enhance communication between the refugees and service providers. This includes interpreters accompanying refugees to the hospital easing treatment.
As we joined the rest of the world in celebrating this day yesterday (10th October 2011), the Refugee Law Project appeals to everyone to focus on refugee mental health. We invite you to watch a short video clip at, highlighting the gaps in Uganda’s mental health services and the challenges refugees in Uganda face as they try to access those services.
For further information, please contact us at


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