RE: “Depression and its associated stigma is catastrophic” (The New Times, November 19).
The points raised in the article are valid and well appreciated. However, there is a missing and important aspect. This is the importance of medical treatment. Depression is a medical condition and not just sadness that one can be talked out of.
While the social support and counseling (both family and medical) is a very important part, treatment is also essential. If your friend has a headache, you don't tell them to be strong and let them be, would you? You would help them seek medical treatment, then support them to ensure they get well. Same thing with depression.
However, it’s frustrating when it comes to the medical treatment in Rwanda. Currently only four hospitals—King Faisal, Clinic Polyfam, Centre Ikirezi, and Ndera—have a psychiatrist that I know of. Ndera Hospital, as I imagine, is overwhelmed being the national referral hospital for mental illness. King Faisal and Polyfam have the doctor available only once a week – and for a few hours.
Also, medicines are only available from a few pharmacies and sometimes are out of stock. This is for the well to do and they are the insured through RSSB and private insurance companies. I can only imagine how this is for those on Mutuelles de Santé, the unemployed or the uninsured.
Secondly, the issue of stigma is a reality. Ironically, even the above hospital staff have stigma towards mental illness.
The Ministry of Health seems to be slowly getting its act together. However, if the same public awareness is done like the one done for HIV/AIDS and other diseases, imagine how much a difference this would make to mental illness in the country.
When HIV/AIDS emerged in the early 1980s, the stigma that patients faced was so heartbreaking that countries invested in massive public campaigns. Now we live, eat and work alongside HIV positive people with compassion and support.
One of the saddest scenes in Kigali is coming across epilepsy sufferers on the ground and everyone passing by them whispering, “it must be demons”, for something easily treatable.
Let’s wake up to the reality of mental illness and realise it could be me or my family member today or tomorrow.