Q&A: A case for better mental health

Thursday June 24 2021
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Chaste Uwihoreye, a Psychotherapist, trauma healing expert. PHOTO | ANDREW I KAZIBWE


Rwanda is taking up mental health as a vital concern. Chaste Uwihoreye, a psychotherapist, trauma healing expert, and country director at Uyisenga N’I Manzi shared his experiences with Rwanda today's Andrew Kazibwe

Mental health is seen as a reality. Why?

Mental health has existed since time immemorial. Cases were categorised, and they had their ways of diagnosis and reatment by traditional healers, and people were healed. Psychotherapy existed, where through family-based settings, dysfunctional families were handled, and problems solved. But our fore systems were destroyed and taken over by the western ways.

Why has it taken Africa this long to realise this problem?

It is because our traditional and social systems were lost through the adoption of the western ways and cultures, hence they were being referred to as primitive and informal. Sometimes we import methods that are di­ cult to adopt. Issues like sexual education matters were taught. Seeking a traditional healer on matters of mental health was normal. Even though we lost much, we can adopt and establish artificial settings of psychotherapy, where we can also integrate the western methods and traditional ones. It is a question of "How can we formalise the informal methods, o be well understood and handled within society?"

Take us through your view of how Rwandans have taken up mental health as a concern?


It is an ongoing process. Considering what we went through, like the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, we found ourselves with a lot of mental health cases and it was important to borrow from the western methods. From the research that has been done, cases are still high. From only one psychiatristic hospital in Ndera with one psychiatrist professional in 1995, we now have more facilities which have been integrated into public hospitals, Genocide Survivors’ organisations, and private health systems, too.

What kind of cases or audiences have you attended to?

From the mental health research carried carried out by the Ministry of Health in 2018, almost 12 percent of the general population suffers from major depression, 28 percent suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and about 26 percent suffers from panic disorder. But among Genocide survivors, around 35 percent suffer from major depression, 28 percent suffer from PTSD, where by Young-Adult age groups are today more affected by mental health. Trauma is associated with depression, while panic attacks are associated with drug use and addiction, which is more evident among young people.

What challenges do you face?

Largely, it is how we could prescribe and explain a mental health case to a patient, since we study them in a western language setting, yet treat them from the local setting. Stigmatisation is another major problem hindering most people from seeking help since society hasn’t yet realised the need. Mental health diagnosis methods and procedures tend not to be localised too, while services to are still confined to a few urban centers.

A­fter attending to various cases, doesn't this affect your mental health status too?

We too hold procedures and phases where we are supervised by our colleagues, where we further share cases, to avoid burn-out, and recharge.

What do you advise that one should do to protect their mental state?

First is for one to embrace themselves. Families and close friends are very important, and socialising with them is so important since it helps one to confiding in another.