Mental Health

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Virtual Counseling Room: A possible boost to mental health in Uganda

The Dotcom era

The ongoing digital revolution which started with the internet around 1980, has impacted the way of life and activities in all sectors. As the pace of digital transformation accelerates, the birth of a very connected yet lonely society has become a real threat to mental health. The digital society has seen both the old and young replace human company with the company of digital devices.

Just recently, my 21-year-old “jolly” friend broke into tears after I made a considerably usual statement; “Hey Ian (not real name), you seem very happy these days!”. I said when I had noticed his “over-excitement”, every time we happened to meet. Our conversation revealed to me the depth of prolonged depression and brokenness he was struggling with. “Why hadn’t Ian sought counseling all this while?” I wondered.

Of sad, but happy-looking people

In Uganda, you will often hear the statements; “Guma nga omusajja” or “Guma makazi”, which is literally translated as, “Be strong like a man” or “be strong like a woman”. Just like Ian, many opt to “act” strong and happy instead of seeking counseling due to the fear of being judged among other fears. Thoughts like; “people will see me”, “people will think I am weak”, “I am a leader in society”, and “I am a prominent person”, among others, are killing more people than we realize.

Some reports have indicated that about 7 out of every 10 people with a mental disorder do not seek treatment! So, what can be done?

Here are a few digital solutions to be considered:
  • Develop software, and integrate it with social media platforms and other interactive technologies that would bring together professional counselors and people in need of counseling services without requiring patients/clients to reveal their identities.
  • Create virtual counseling rooms that have invisible counselors and hold virtual counseling sessions to encourage people to seek help anonymously until they are ready for physical interaction.
  • Create a follow-up mechanism for persons that have sought counseling services to monitor the healing process.
  • Leave an avenue for people ready for physical interaction to access them

The health sector, companies/organizations, institutions of learning, and the church, can co-opt some of these suggestions into their existing digital platforms or create them in a situation where they do not exist. Not all happy-looking people are okay. Not all unwell people are getting help! Therefore, We need to create digital platforms to ease access to help. A healthy mind is a healthy person, a healthy person is a healthy society.

Image: Mukalere Justine

The author is a Lecturer at the UCU Department of Computing and Technology