Parliament to champion mental health awareness - Speaker

Parliament is taking lead on mental health awareness with the Speaker, Anita Among, encouraging all MPs to test for mental wellness.

“We need to start with ourselves to make sure that when we are legislating for the people, we are mentally stable - that is a priority. Before we talk about checking others, we shall first check ourselves,” she said.

The Speaker was opening a two-day mental health camp organised by the Parliamentary Forum on Mental Health at the Parliament Gardens, on Monday, 22 May 2023.

With reference to the recent spike in gun crime by security personnel in both the regular forces and private companies which has resulted in several deaths by shooting, the Speaker said it was an awakening call for the country to straightaway address mental disorders whose rate is reported to be on rise.

Among said preliminary reports indicate that the perpetrators in the shooting cases were dealing with issues relating to mental health.

“Within one month, we have lost lives arising from aspects of depression, poverty, unemployment, stress, drug addiction and alcohol. Because we have all these problems in Uganda, we are going to make sure that people are screened for mental health,” Among said.

She said since Parliament has appropriated money for mental health in the next budget, there should be a programme encouraging people to be screened for mental health.

Mental health disorders present differently and could be characterised by a combination of abnormal thoughts, behaviour, perceptions, emotions and relationships with others, according to available information.

The latest report from the Uganda Counselling Association and the Ministry of Health, 14 million Ugandans are mentally sick.

This is attributed to the rising cost of living, pressures of modern life and substance abuse, many Ugandans are suffering silently with various mental illnesses.

Whereas these were recorded in 2019, the forum is concerned that the figures could have since doubled given the restrictions that were brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Chairperson, Parliamentary Forum on Mental Health, Hon. Geofrey Macho, (Indep., Busia Municipality) said the three-year-old forum was established in response to the effect of COVID-19 on people’s mental health, noting that the statistical evidence of 14 million people with mental illness calls for urgent mitigation measures.

Macho revealed that there were a number of lacunas in the law regarding mental health and notified the Speaker of his intention to table before Parliament the gaps within the law requiring Parliament’s attention.

“We have gaps within the laws regarding mental health, and I believe if they are addressed, we will avoid the recently witnessed gun violence. It seems the security officials are over fatigued,” he said.

The forum chairperson proposed a mandatory periodic assessment of all people in possession of guns for mental health, saying it is one way of preventing a likely rise in killings by security officers.