GAERG seeks to tackle mental illness stigma in new campaign

Volunteers carry a trauma victim during a past commemoration event at Murambi Genocide Memorial. Photo: File.

Rwandan Graduates Genocide Survivors Organisation (GAERG) is planning a national campaign to raise awareness on mental health and tackle stigma against mental patients.

The campaign also seeks to help the survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi to cope with trauma.

This was revealed last week at an event to mark the World Mental Health Day where Emmanuel Nshimiyimana, the Secretary-General at GAERG, revealed that their upcoming campaign also involves free screening for mental illnesses.  

Slated to begin next month, the campaign will be conducted at the village level and targets all citizens. 

Chaste Uwihoreye, a psychologist, underscored the importance of raising awareness about mental health and screening.  

“Mostly, the patient doesn’t even know that (s) he is sick. Nevertheless, the question (what’s happening to me?) keeps arising,” said Uwihoreye, disclosing the painful experience of mental patients.

One of the major challenges facing mental patients is stigma, she added, “mostly coming from our culture or limited access to information about mental health.”

Nshimiyimana was also critical of the media’s underreporting on mental health, saying that journalists tend to focus on negative breaking news like recent cases of suicide.

“(The) reporting shouldn’t only be about breaking news, there should be a step further to educate the public about these conditions.”

During the upcoming campaign, a special workshop has been arranged for the media.

According to Rwanda Mental Health Survey 2017-18, about 223,500 people sought consultation in public hospitals for mental health-related treatment last year.

Ten per cent of the above were new patients, while 35.6 per cent were survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

According to suicide data by the World Health Organisation (WHO), close to 800, 000 people in the world die due to suicide every year.

Figures show that for each adult who died by suicide there may have been more than 20 others attempting suicide.

Egide Gatari, the president of GAERG, said the organisation is ready to sustain the discussions on topics revolving around mental health.

GAERG has for the past 25 years been providing safe spaces for Genocide survivors through the Genocide Survivors Students Association (AERG).

These spaces have helped many Genocide survivors regain hope in life, thus becoming more resilient.

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