By Leonard Kamugisha Akida
Kampala: Less than a decade ago, social media has picked interest in various topics on politics, socio-economic spheres.
On Twitter, the most trending topic have been on Mental Health Awareness (Mental Wellness, as different experts would prefer calling it) and a number of Twitter spaces have been scheduled for keynote speakers basically mental health experts, survivors to share their expertise and experiences to the listeners.
Its very impressive reading on social media and in the mainstream media about mental wellness because this has been a neglected health challenge for long beside the untold societal perceptions about mental disorders.
As a journalist, I have been blessed to report on a number of cases on mental health and interviewed people from various organisations, professional counsellors, therapists and psycho-social focal persons.
During this period, I have received comments from different contacts saying that they have no idea of what mental health is about. Its astonishing but carries salt to organisations and individuals advocating for mental wellness and the ministry of health in Uganda. Many of these are people living in rural areas and peri-urban towns. To be sincere, they are non internet users.
Previously, community health programmes such as HIV/AIDS awareness, Safe Male Circumcision, family planning, Malaria awareness, Gender Based Violence, child sacrifice etcetera have become successful although not fully attained due to the influence of the media (social media and mainstream media) and community inclusiveness.
Mental Health Awareness which many NGOs, individuals are recently championing is a highly rated health challenge that requires urgent attention. Its a public concern expected to be embraced by everyone.
Ugandans, especially those in villages and peri-urban towns need to be aware of this programme since they are the targeted audience and most of the negative perception about mental disorders such as witchcraft, heredity name it emanate from the areas of their jurisdictions.
A comprehensive solution for creating awareness should soon be observed by all and mental health should go beyond Twitter Spaces.
Mass media should be used in creating and promoting awareness about mental wellness.
The masses should be told not to look at mental disorders as witchcraft, family bondage, drug addiction rather as a health issue. Thorough sensitisation is needed about how the public can access information on mental health and from where.
The ball is in the court of the mental health advocates and the government to implement those crucial recommendations and reduce on mental health related issues as well as increase funding for the sector.
Its not news that Uganda got only one specialized psychiatry hospital and few health workers trained to handle mental related cases. Nonetheless, there are avenues through which mental wellness can be promoted as aforementioned herein.
Previous experiences with government and NGOs programmes such as HIV/AIDs, family planning and others as have been prior highlighted have also been achieved through using different communication strategies to easily convey the message to the targeted audience.
Not so long when The Aids Support Organisation (TASO) used melodrama to preach the Anti-AIDS gospel in schools, churches, mosques, markets and other public places. It’s through this that HIV/AIDS preventive measures like the use of Condoms, Abstinence, Faithfulness among married couples were adopted.
Other challenges such as social stigma, self prescription of drugs, confidentiality and going for HIV testing have been addressed.
On another hand, Radio and TV drama shows, special publications (print or online) such as Rock Point 256, Straight Talk magazines have been previously used targeting the youth audience sensitizing them on dangers of cross generational sex, drug abuse among other health problems.
The government and non-profitable organisations on mental wellness can adopt to these and modules of communication to richly disseminate their message on mental health awareness.
Popularizing the programme in through the media and community mobilisation will ensure the largest percentage of potential audience is covered and other funding challenges will soon become history.
Emphasis should be put on media inclusion in sensitizing people on mental wellness. Media Airtime and or space, community meetings are basic communication tools for this particular programme.
World over, today (September 10), is World Suicide Prevention Day – WSPD celebrations organized by the International Association of Suicide Prevention – IASP and as observed by World Health organization.
This year’s theme: “Creating Hope Through Actions” reminds each member of the public that everyone has a role to play in creating awareness on Mental wellness if suicide and other mental disorders were to be zeroed in our society. This can only be achieved when we use medium channels, use language that appeals to the targeted audience.
Let us take actions to create hopes today and forever never than before.
By Leonard Kamugisha Akida, kamugisha.leonardakida@gmail
The Author is a journalist at The PARROTS MEDIA and multimedia trainer.