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Mental health is an essential aspect of overall well-being, yet many young people in Uganda face significant challenges when it comes to their mental and emotional health. In response, Awesome Mind Speaks, a youth-led non-profit organization, created the Be Awesome program, aimed at empowering primary and secondary school students with knowledge and skills related to mental health and emotional well-being. Through partnerships with organizations like the Aga Khan Foundation and the European Union, Be Awesome has been able to reach thousands of students, teachers, and mental health service providers. In this blog, we will explore the impact of the Be Awesome program and the need for continued partnerships and collaborations to improve mental health awareness and advocacy among young people in Uganda
Mental health is a very crucial aspect of each and everyone’s life. In fact, without it, there is no health. The World Health Organization defines mental health as a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and can contribute to his or her community. However, statistics show that mental disorders and anxiety disorders in Uganda are at 22.9% in children and 24.2% in adults, 14.4% in children and 20.2% in adults and 22.2% in children and 21.2% in adults respectively. Additionally, estimates of depression among adolescents in secondary schools in central Uganda showed that 21% of adolescents manifested significant symptoms of depression and 11% manifested signs of major depression.
Therefore, given the existing statistics on young people’s mental health and the Covid-19 pandemic, where institutions like schools were closed from March 2020 to January 2022, many young people were exposed to very harsh and unusual living conditions. This led to mental challenges and caused impairments in their functionality at home, in the community, and, above all, in school. These circumstances called for a number of mental health interventions, hence the BE AWESOME mental health program.
Be Awesome is a school mental health program designed to empower young people in primary and secondary schools with knowledge and skills in mental health and emotional well-being to enable them to cope with the psychological changes and social transitions during adolescence, as well as promote proper mental health during adulthood
Be Awesome also seeks to influence the setup and improvement of mental health support structures within schools through peer-learning sessions, school outreaches, mental health chats, inter-school dialogues, and linkage to clinical mental health services for those in need of such services.
However, because it is a youth-led non-profit organisation, Awesome Mind Speaks could not raise all the resources needed to implement the program. So, we out-sourced partnerships by “selling the idea” to as many people and organisations as we could. Eventually, we earned a partnership with the Aga Khan Foundation and European Union (it took us 6-8 months to secure a partnership). It was a grand opportunity for us to spread information about mental health to young people in schools; following an inclusive and needs-based approach, we selected our operational areas to be Arua, based on the post-war advance mental and emotional effects reported in the area. We also selected Kampala, specifically some of the less positioned schools in terms of access to information on mental health and services.
After this assurance, we immediately deployed and trained 14 young people we call compeers in Kampala and Arua on how to implement the Be Awesome project. In the 9th month of 2020, we have implemented the Be Awesome program in 5 primary schools and 5 secondary schools both in Arua and Kampala (including one for students living with hearing impairment). We have reached over 3,000 learners with information about their mental health in both regions, equipped 40 teachers with mental health information and basic skills on providing youth-friendly mental health care, and trained over 30 mental health service providers in the provision of youth-friendly mental health services. Above all, five critical mental illness cases have been linked to professional mental health service providers hence saving lives.
The Be Awesome project has successfully impacted the lives of many young people in Uganda based on testimonies we receive from the students themselves, teachers, administrators, and parents of the learners who testify for the behavioral, emotional, and academic improvement recorded in the schools where we operate. Great thanks to the Aga Khan Foundation and European Union for their generosity towards Awesome Mind Speaks for the improvement of young people’s mental health.
However, we at Awesome Mind Speaks have a passion to reach all young people in and outside schools through mental health awareness and advocacy, and we believe we can ONLY achieve this through more partnerships and collaborations.
For any inquiries, feedback, and partnership expression are welcome; share to helloawesomemindspeaks.org.
You can also reach out to us via our social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @speaksawesome, @awesomemindspeaks.