Mental health workers have been urged to periodically do a mental health assessment for wellness as they go about their work.
State Minister for Higher Education John Chrysostom Muyingo says that owing to the high and growing threat of mental illness, the ministry has started a mental health programme within schools which they are planning to expand to tertiary institutions.
Under the programme, schools are supposed to have counsellors, career guidance masters or at least a desk within the school that is charged with creating mental health awareness and attending to the mental wellness needs of learners.
While the programme is not yet expanded to tertiary institutions, Muyingo recommends having a mental check on those pursuing the mental health course at the institution at least every after four months. He was officiating at the third Graduation Ceremony at the Butabika-based School of Psychiatric Clinical Officers.
The ceremony which saw 143 students graduate with ordinary and higher diplomas in clinical psychiatry was held just a day after life was lost at the school campus in an incident suspected to be a suicide.
According to Mathias Nampogo, the Principal of the School, they are awaiting a postmortem report to confirm but all indicators show the second-year student took his own life, which is one of the mental illnesses reported to be on a rise in Uganda.
Prof Catherine Abbo, a lecturer in the Department of Psychiatry at Makerere University, said that mental wellness is a key issue to give attention to, especially for mental health workers who have to deal with patients who are many times agitated and don’t accept that they are actually sick.
She urged the graduating officers to keep a supportive social network and have enough sleep even as the environment they are graduating into is hectic considering that the country has a high burden of disease but with only a few health workers. She said many times clinical psychiatric officers and doctors find themselves working long hours with high workloads which the COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened.
Abbo says that the fact that mental health workers work under extreme stress has partly kept some people away from specializing in psychiatry leading to very low numbers enrolling.
At the school of Psychiatric Clinical Officers, for instance, they had to hold on graduation for four years so that they can raise at least a bigger number to cost-effectively hold a graduation ceremony. The 143 that are graduating this year cover those that finished school in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.
This was the third graduation ceremony since the school which is the only one training psychiatric clinical officers in the East African Region started in 1974. Currently, the school has 200 students enrolled.