Taking matters in their hands! How Uganda’s young people are determined to give Youth Mental Health a face!

Don Zane Muwanguzi Feb. 23, 2022

How Uganda’s young people are determined to give Youth Mental Health a face! The demand for mental health information and services among young people in Uganda is huge and there are not so many initiatives meeting this gap. The young members of Awesome Mind Speaks are on their way to deal with this need.

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The WHO constitution states that "Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” The important implication of this definition being that mental health is more than just the absence of mental disorders or disabilities but rather an integral and essential component of health. Indeed, mental health is a crucial part of overall health, but is often a silent topic of discussion due to the stigma that has for so long characterized mental illnesses and the entire mental wellness topic.

The magnitude of the problem

There is poor access to mental health information and services generally particularly in young people. In developing countries like Uganda such mental health is least prioritized and often looked at as a luxury according to WHO, 2019. However, recently and with COVID 19 raging the world and the country in particular, there is growing recognition that mental health is an important public health and development issue. Statistics show that close to 20% (6.8 million) out of the 34 million people in Uganda have some degree of mental illness, ranging from anxiety and depression to severe mental health illness and according to Butabika mental hospital director Fred Kigozi, the country has only 32 psychiatrics yet the number of mental cases seems to be increasing due to alcohol and drug abuse now made even worse with the COVID 19 pandemic. The demand for mental health information and services among young people in Uganda is huge and there are not so many initiatives meeting this gap. There is still a huge stigma to initiatives supporting young people’s mental health and the young people themselves facing mental health needs. And because of this urgency, a team of young folks have put up a brave stance to deal with this need and they are already gaining momentum with their engaging and inclusive interventions.

Awesome Mind Speaks

Our organization’s initiative aims at fostering a supportive and productive environment through normalizing mental health and wellness conversations in spaces of young people including work places, schools, homes and other notable communities. We are a youth-led and youth focused non-profit organization and since inception, we are using effective engagement and communication strategies and campaigns that create awareness and alleviate mental health risks among young people. Our work is done through our carefully selected and intentional interventions designed by seasoned mental health leaning service providers and adult allies. As young people we are capable and have a role to play in promoting positive mental health since we make up majority of the population. Lewis Denis Bukenya is one of the adult allies to our organizational initiative, and as a health practitioner notes that its really encouraging and energizing to see us young people in Uganda taking a centre stage in leading mental health initiatives. I am proud of us young people and for the work our organization Awesome Mind Speaks is doing to champion  #mentalhealth in Uganda that urgently needs to be prioritized.

The Impact so far

Awesome Mind Speaks uses an integrational approach by activating and embedding mental health strategies and activities in various areas like Behaviour Change Communication, Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Advocacy, Livelihoods and Skills development for young people and their support systems. To date, the organization has led 3 national stakeholders’ dialogues with a reach of over 3 million people, over 10,000 young people reached in and out of school with mental health information and linked to appropriate available mental health services, 20 youth volunteers recruited and supported in our activities, a Uganda mental health anthem (song) produced, 2 trainings on supporting young people’s mental health have been conducted. Collaborations and partnerships with over 10 organizations established. They are also an award winning team and are the overall winners (2021) of an innovation design sprint worth 17 Million Uganda shillings organized by Digital Human Rights Lab with “KEEPCHATTY” innovation; an Application prototype which is a low data Application that provides a link between peer and professional mental health information and services needed by the young people and practitioners, real time access to accurate and quality information of what you can do to enhance your mental health and wellbeing and enables the young people to join support groups and have the ability to download material and interact with it offline. They have also been awarded “Ember Spark Award” worth £1000 in recognition of their Passion, Innovation and Impact in the Mental Health space for young people.

Call to Action

Our initiatives and activities are accepted by young people but we lack the funding to push us through and reach all or most of the young people and other notable structures that need them. Since we are a young people’s organization, we are continuously looking for mentorship, guidance and resources to further our work that not many are willing to provide even after demonstrating our commitment and resilience to our causes. We also need linkages to the emerging knowledge and networks and associations to further our learning and skills to deliver our programs better.