Mental Health Uganda has embarked on the door to door monitoring of their clients in Gulu and Omoro districts. The move was prompted by the current lockdown announced by the government to contain the spared of COVID-19.
The monitoring visits involved 1,002 peers with specific skills in handling mental health issues. The peers include are a team of former mental health clients who underwent training. They are deployed in Bobi, Abwoch, Lakwana Sub Counties in Omoro district and Awach, Cwero, Akonyibedo in Gulu district and parts of Gulu City.
They are tasked with monitoring mental health patients in their areas to ensure they adhere to treatment, sustainability of mental health recoveries and reduction in hospitalization and relapses.
John Paul Nyeko, the Coordinator of Mental Health Uganda in Northern Uganda said that the initiative comes at a time when the region is reporting high cases relapses among mental health and new cases reporting at Gulu Regional Referral Hospital Mental Health department daily.
Nyeko disclosed that between five and seven cases of new mental health cases and relapses are registered at the facility since the new lockdown started. He says depression, bipolar disorder and multiple psychosocial needs and Post Stress Traumatic Disorder (PSTD) form the bulk of the cases they are registering.
He attributes the surge to lack of access to treatment among mental health clients due to lack of transport to health facilities, defaulting on medication, alcohol and substance abuse and poor feeding.
Nyeko further notes that the COVID-19 restrictions ignited stressful lives and domestic violence among their clients. Florence Lamunu, one of the peer workers in Gulu City told URN on Monday that she is using the talking therapy and encouraging mental health clients and families to adhere to medication and ensure proper feeding.
She, however, says that it is not easy reaching their clients in distant areas. Lamunu says that they sometimes make phone calls to the clients and their families as well as use local radio stations to create awareness. Miriam Apiyo, a mental health client in Gulu City is happy that the initiative will support some of them who are in distant places and cannot easily reach health facilities due to the COVID-19 restrictions.
Alfred Lulua Droli, the Acting In-charge of the Mental Health Unit disclosed that the number of patients reporting for review has greatly declined because of the lockdown from more than 120 patients daily down to 70 currently. He explains that initially, they would get patients from as far as Nwoya, Omoro, Oyam and Amuru districts but now the majority comes from Gulu district, which is near the health facility.
Derrick Kizza, the Executive Director of Mental Health Uganda revealed that they have also launched a toll-free line to engage mental health clients virtually amidst the ban on public and social gatherings that has affected their community engagements.
He cited the need to take care of mental health patients and joint effort in supporting mental health services. There are more than 9,000 mental health clients registered at Gulu Regional Referral Mental Health Unit as of this financial year.