Bazilia Maeva Rusamaza, 18, suffered from depression in 2017 and thought she was suffering from a strange disease.
“I was ashamed to tell people what I was going through. So I smiled and pretended in public and at home, as if nothing was wrong with me,” Rusamaza says.
So she kept it to herself until 2020 when her body and mind couldn’t hold it anymore and one day it all came out when she started acting strange in public and at home. She says she has gone to the level of cutting her skin, one of the signs which can easily lead to suicides.
In fact, one day she drugged herself (with pills) almost to her death but she survived after being rushed to hospital.
In all this there was one person – her mom- whom she says was always behind her, able to listen to her story, fears and feelings until the time when she got proper treatment and recovered.
From her experience she started an organization- “Hear2Share” which brings together teenagers to share their mental health issues regardless of their experience, age and social status and get free assistance.
“This initiative has directly helped about 100 youths and many more who come to us seeking support on how to help others,” Rusamaza said.
This is one of the few youth led initiatives that Rwanda is counting on in order to deal with the growing mental health burden which research has largely attributed to the after effects of the 1994 genocide against Tutsi.
Other youth led initiatives include medical students organization in the University of Rwanda operating mental health activities and services in the university communities and outside.
On the celebration of World Mental Health day this weekend, Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) department of mental health showed that there are three areas which need to be addressed as the burden of mental health increases in several facets of life.
These include: addressing the increasing burden, service delivery and emerging challenges with innovative solutions.
According to the department mental health survey showed that mental health is a burden in Rwandan society.
For instance, one in ten children have depression, one in five youths has a mental health problem and women are more affected than men.
Moreover, it has been found that there is a slight increase in urban than rural areas.
The research also showed gaps in service delivery: Since 2004 when the first mental health policy was developed, 46 hospitals provide mental health (MH) services . 419 Health centers out of 508 have MH services.
RBC findings show that Innovation is highly needed in order to address the small percentage of persons (2%) accessing mental health treatment and the gap is said to be bigger especially among the adolescent who fez to find MH services.
“RBC has started a screening exercise for youth but we need innovative ideas on substance abuse, and around the Covid-19 pandemic impact caused 41% suicide attempt and Gbv also increased which also need innovative ways of addressing it,” said Dr. Darius Gishoma, from RBC mental health department.
Dr. Yvonne Kayiteshonga, the Head of RBC mental health department said, that there is need for more partners to come on board to support existing initiatives especially with a focus on early intervention programs among children, in schools and families.
“We want more people to intervene by creating adolescent and school based mental health programs, we need your support in community based prevention and promotion of services through community health workers and leaders,” Kayiteshonga said.
She said that Rwanda has put more efforts in general population awareness campaigns and invested in research but there is need to do more follow up informative research (using existing data) to inform emerging challenges such as the Covid19 pandemic.