Mental Health in Uganda

Butabika Hospital: 

Imagine a place. A place where you’ve never been to like before.

Imagine an underfunded mental hospital and the only one in all of Uganda. There are 600 beds but is overflowing with approximately 200 patients making the total population 800. Patients with no privacy, living dormitory style without having any space to themselves. People living on top of each other and their brains completely turned to mush due to all of the medications they were on. Only 6 psychistrists and only 5 nurses to watch over all of these patients. Patients are running around the grounds without any supervision, no one is looking after them properly, no one has adequate TIME to look after them properly. But it’s not the psychiatrists fault though, nor is it the people who run the hospitals fault. It’s the lack of recourses, lack of medication, lack of adequate food, and lack of infrastructure. All could be solved with adequate funding.

It’s easy to point a finger at one root issue, but its also important to see WHY this issue, is an issue. One of the places where we can begin to answer WHY is there a lack of funding. Is to look, first, at the patient’s demographics. Most patients that are at Butabika Hospital don’t have a strong family support system because many of the families believe the patients are crazy, or even possessed by the devil. That being said, mental health isn’t exactly an understood concept in Uganda, its just a cultural thing that needs to be addressed. For example, a family would blame their child who has schizophrenia for being insane. Another reason why families might admit their children into this psychiatric hospital is that it acts as a place parents can, “put them” (for lack of better words.) If they were born with some type of disease and such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome which has in turn, caused a wide range of health issues. Some kids were as young as 5, living with no privacy or motherly attention. And to make matters worse, when these kids were done with treatment many families did not even want them back.

I’m not going to sit here and tell Uganda, especially being a Muzungu (a foreigner) how to fix their issue. But I think, as global citizens we can all agree to try and bring more awareness about mental health and how important it is to address. Because awareness, makes change, which makes the authorities do something, which means more funding and resources. So as a citizen of the world, writing blogs like these, or talking about your own mental health we can all try and make a difference one inch at a time.

On a more personal note however, anyone who knows me knows I’m a huge advocate for mental health and taking care of yourself. So, coming here and seeing how little funding this hospital got, really upset me. It took all of me not to break down and cry on the way out of the hospital grounds. But, its motivated me even more to become a psychiatrist myself, and come to Uganda a couple months out of the year to volunteer at this hospital and to give back to the community. 


One thought on “Mental Health in Uganda”

  1. Thank you for sharing this touching post. I hope you took time to take care of yourself. I’m passionate about mental health, too. More psychiatrists are desperately needed, so that is a great career path to consider. Where do you hope to go to medical school?

    Most of my graduate work was in mental health, but not psychiatry. I did some graduate studies in GSU’s Counseling and Psychological Services Department, where they train practitioners to be mental health counselors, school counselors, rehabilitation counselors, school psychologists, counseling psychologists, and counselor educators. (They host information sessions about all those graduate programs, for anyone interested: But those practitioners often work in coordination with psychiatrists in the US, so I am familiar with the work of psychiatrists and grateful for it!

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