Uganda’s community initiative helps HIV-positive patients overcome depression



Uganda’s community initiative helps HIV-positive patients overcome depression

One of the advantages of GSP [group support psychotherapy] is that it does not require the continued intervention of expert mental health practitioners

GULU, Uganda, October 10, 2021 / APO Group / –

Margaret was in the throes of depression and overwhelmed by stigma. With little motivation for life as she struggled to adjust to living with HIV during her pregnancy, she contemplated death. “I could lock myself in the house every day. I wanted to kill my child and commit suicide because I thought I was no longer useful in this life and I didn’t want my child to suffer like I did. “, she says.

In her village in northern Uganda, a community counseling group helps people living with HIV by providing psychosocial therapy to better cope and overcome mental health problems. It can be difficult to adjust to life with a chronic infectious disease. People living with HIV are at greater risk of developing mental disorders, with depression and anxiety being among the most common co-morbidities they face. Margaret attributes her survival to the group of advisers.

Operating in the northern Uganda districts of Gulu, Kitgum and Pader, the community counseling group known as Social-Emotional & Economic Empowerment of Depressed HIV Persons through Knowledge of Group Support Psychotherapy (SEEK-GSP) not only helps patients to go through the psychological crisis, it also provides economic support for self-reliance.

The sessions take place as part of a group supportive therapy, which involves bringing together people with the same mental health issues to share experiences, encourage and support each other in meeting and overcoming challenges. . As part of the SEEK-GSP program, patients undergo eight sessions that include psychotherapy, problem solving, and learning business skills to improve their livelihoods.

“One of the advantages of GSP [group support psychotherapy] is that it does not require the continued intervention of expert mental health practitioners. Instead, we trained existing primary health care workers in rural centers to deliver GSP sessions to those affected, ”explains Etheldreda Nakimuli-Mpungu, consultant psychiatrist and principal investigator of the SEEK-GSP project.

Since 2010, more than 200 community health workers and village health team members have been trained under the SEEK-GSP program to recognize and treat depression. They provide psychosocial support to villagers through group support psychotherapy and to date have treated depression in over 5,000 people living with HIV / AIDS.

“I have more confidence in life,” says Margaret. “I know that if I continue to take my medications correctly, I can live a normal life with HIV and do all my chores without fear.

Dr Hafsa Lukwata, head of the mental health program at the Ministry of Health, said the government was working to improve mental health care in the country, including training non-medical personnel in mental health care, by strengthening public education initiatives and advocating for increased global funding for mental health care, including among people living with HIV / AIDS. In recent times, the heightened socio-economic depression caused by health emergencies, including the COVID-19 pandemic and response measures, has again required multisectoral action to improve mental health.

“We plan to strengthen the links between the Ministry of Health and technical and social partners, including NGOs, the education sector and civil society to support health innovations in Uganda such as the SEEK program. -GSP, ”said Dr Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam, the World Health Organization (WHO) Representative in Uganda.

Dr Yonas explains that WHO plans to work with various advocacy platforms, including the Uganda Parliamentary Forum on Mental Health to help implement laws that promote mental health, promote PGS and other innovations across the board. countries and encourage multisectoral engagement in mental health.

Investment in mental health remains very low in Africa. On average, African ministries of health allocate around 90 US cents per capita for mental health, up from 10 US cents in 2016. However, this is often allocated to large psychiatric institutions in large cities with only around 15% going to primary education. and community health levels, which are closer to the majority of people in need of mental health services

The theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day is Mental Health Care for All: Let’s Make It Real – a call on government leaders to make quality mental health care for all a reality.

For the SEEK-GSP program in Uganda, the next step is to expand operations nationwide. “In the future, we want to train 1,000 lay health workers in each of Uganda’s five geographic regions. This will allow us to treat up to two thousand people per year, ”says Dr Nakimuli-Mpungu.

She points out that the project has the potential to fill the gaps in the treatment of depression, especially in people living with HIV / AIDS, to reduce HIV transmission and protect families from hunger and enable more children to stay in school.

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