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Why You Should Celebrate Your Health Worker Today

nurses at Butabika National Referral Hospital in Kampala, Uganda

Nurses at Butabika National Referral Hospital in Kampala, Uganda. Photo by Leah Oketcho for IntraHealth International

Health workers are central to discussions on mental health—both as providers of treatment and care and as potential sufferers of depression brought about by work-related stress. 

As the world recently commemorated World Health Day, for me, it was a time to remember the times my health worker did everything possible to make me and my loved ones feel better.

It is about time for us all to celebrate the amazing work of all health workers—specifically  mental health workers—who prevail and save lives despite the challenges they face while offering services.

The theme of the day was ‘Depression. Let’s Talk’ and called for attention to the problem of depression and its related effects. Depression is an illness characterized by persistent sadness and a loss of interest in activities that one normally enjoys accompanied by an inability to carry out daily activities for a period of not less than two weeks. If not treated, depression can have devastating social and economic consequences and can lead to death.

 According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression causes mental anguish leading to suicide, which is currently the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. Society also pays a price, as those suffering with depression struggle to be productive—both in the home and in the workplace.

Fortunately, depression can be treated, often through a combination of medication and sometimes with different types of talk therapy. Treatment, however, requires health workers that have been trained and equipped to recognize and treat mental health conditions.

Treatment, however, requires health workers that have been trained and equipped to recognize and treat mental health conditions.

Health workers are central to this discussion—both as providers of treatment and care of those suffering from depression and as potential victims of depression brought about by work-related stress, including long working hours, overwhelming patient numbers, the psychological impact of watching patients suffer, and many other reasons.

Mental health is a serious public health and development issue which can be managed through recognizing the critical role of health workers—particularly those offering specialized psychiatric services. In Uganda, there are 41,675 health workers serving a population of close to 40 million people.   Less than 3,000 of those are trained to offer psychiatric and mental health services.  

According to the WHO-AIMS Report on Mental Health System in Uganda, health worker to patient ratio for mental health services is 1:13 per 100,000 people. The rates were even lower for clinical psychologists, social workers, and occupational therapists. Currently, there are only 36 psychiatrists in Uganda.

The draft mental health policy called for integration of mental health into primary health care down to the community level in addition to improved pre-service and in-service training of staff. Much as mental health is a component of the national minimum health care package—which is meant to be provided at all levels of care, it is clear that the country has a shortage of mental health professionals to offer these services.

To address some of these critical shortages, Intrahealth International has partnered with the Ministry of Health through USAID’s Strengthening Human Resources for Health Activity to improve pre-service and in-service training of health workers, including mental health professionals. Curricula have been improved to include mental health service delivery for public health nurses, pharmacists, and midwives, among others.

This post was originally published in Uganda's New Vision newspaper.