Yesterday, Rwanda joined the rest of the world to mark the international Mental Health Day under the theme, Dignity in Mental Health: Psychological & Mental Health First Aid for All.
Mental health remains one of the biggest challenges facing the health sector, and is largely rooted in the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi, which left over one million people dead. Most of the Genocide survivors still suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and need regular treatment and follow up in their respective communities. A lot has been done to address mental health issues at the government level, but more needs to be done to manage the challenge holistically
This is because the effects of the Genocide were far-reaching that it left survivors traumatised and with lifelong psychological wounds. Intensified efforts among stakeholders will go a long way in addressing mental health challenges in the country. At the community level, more awareness sensitisation drives should be undertaken on mental health, its tell tale signs and what to do in case a person shows symptoms of mental illness.
This will boost the fight against stigma, discrimination and other kinds of abuses against patients with mental health diseases.
Mental health services should as well be taken closer to the people through establishment of more mental health facilities to supplement the only national referral hospital for mental health. Rwanda currently has seven mental health experts, 50 nurses and up to 2000 psychiatrists. More mental experts need to be trained for effective integration of mental health services in community first aid services.
Also, in some communities, some people still think that mental illness is related to superstition. Many end up visiting traditional healers instead of visiting health centres. Increased awareness and taking mental health services closer to the people should be a priority.