Pioneering work in mental health outreaches in rural, southwestern Uganda

In Uganda, the rates of mental illness are high due to poverty, high prevalence of HIV/AIDS and long-term exposure to civil wars and armed rebellion. The cost of mental health services in urban hospitals remains prohibitive for the rural poor who resort to traditional healers, and many mental health workers prefer working in urban areas. In response, a community outreach program has been developed in rural, southwestern Uganda to deliver effective mental health care. The programme was aimed at improving access to psychiatric care by taking services to communities where the majority of the rural population live, yet where services were non-existent. Baseline information on the training needs was collected by interviewing health workers in rural health units, and the need for a mental health service was assessed by interviewing members of the community and local leaders. Records of local health units were also reviewed. The result of the programme has shown that marginalized and neglected people with mental disorders have been able to access mental health care. Through increasing knowledge and access to psychiatric services in the community, mental health problems and psychological problems can be managed effectively with little need for referral to larger hospitals.

Byaruhanga, Elias; Cantor-Graae, Elizabeth; Maling, Samuel; Kabakyenga, Jerome