The faces of mental health in Uganda

Today, Mental Health Uganda (MHU) and Validity release a new film documenting the lives and experiences of people with mental health issues across the country. Entitled “The faces of mental health in Uganda“, the film vividly depicts the social isolation and human rights violations faced by people with mental health issues on a daily basis.

 

Efforts at reforming the country’s creaking mental health system have floundered for more than a decade, leaving the outdated 1964 Mental Treatment Act in force. Earlier this year, a deeply-flawed Bill was presented to Parliament to reform mental health services and is currently being scrutinised by the Parliamentary Health Committee.

Instead of guaranteeing human rights standards and promoting inclusion, the Bill allows for involuntary confinement, forcible treatment, isolation and restraint. According to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, such practices in healthcare settings have “no therapeutic justification” and can amount to torture, and should be banned.

Last year, the UN’s disability rights committee called on the government to review and revise the Bill to ensure its compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which Uganda ratified in 2008 – the first African nation to do so. Particular concerns were raised about the failure to consult people with mental health issues and their representative organisations during drafting of the law.

The majority of people with mental health in issues, however, remain without access to basic health and social services to support their inclusion in the community. Those who do access conventional psychiatric facilities are often admitted under force, subjected to forced treatment, isolation, physical and chemical restraint in deplorable conditions. In large swathes of the country, people have no option but to rely on non-conventional alternatives including unregulated traditional and faith-based healers.

The case for reform has repeatedly been underlined by MHU and Validity since the publication of major reports on human rights and mental health in the country in 2014. A follow-up visit to Butabika National Mental Referral hospital this year – the only tertiary mental health care facility in the country – found inhuman and degrading conditions, severe overcrowding, the ongoing use of isolation cells, and denial of basic nutrition and health care.

Validity, MHU and our partners call on the Ugandan Parliament to fully review the Mental Health Bill and bring it into compliance with international law. People with mental health issues and their representative organisations must be fully consulted during the redrafting process.