Peer Support Workers -We are always interested in hearing from people who want to support othersPeer Nation News

Become a Peer Support Worker: We are always interested in hearing from people who want to support others

The role of Peer Support Worker

Peer Support Workers are key to the work we do. They are trained to support their peers in working towards their recovery. It can be a hard job but one which is very rewarding and can help in supporting your own mental health. PSWs will: –

  • Share their own experiences which may be difficult at times
  • Work with peers to develop goals and plans for the future
  • Develop relationships with the peer and their family and wider community so that support networks can be developed to aid recovery

Together for Mental Health


Peer Nation is here to help. With your support, we can continue fighting for higher-quality, culturally competent care for people living with mental health conditions.

Peer Nation is needs you! Please join us in any of these roles to help others; become our mental health service user, career, mental health professional; you are are welcome

Peer Support Work (PSW) Training Manuals in English with translated versions in Kinyarwanda, Juba Arabic, Lugbara, Runyankore-Rukiga, Swahili


Exciting News!

Peer Nation is starting a new Peer Support Project in health centres around Kampala, funded by OSIEA. We are very excited and looking forward to starting this project. Watch this space!

We are also pleased to announce that Kampala Mental Health Film Club will be resumed at the National Theatre soon. Look out for the first date, we hope to see you there.

Peer Nation Training on WHOQOL- Measuring Quality of LifeEvents

Peer Nation Training on WHOQOL: Measuring Quality of Life

Institutional Strengthening and Outreach Peer Support Project developments.

A one day training on WHO quality of life assessment for Peer Nation members who are on the front line of the ongoing Institutional strengthening and Peer support project funded by OSIEA took place on Friday 20th/ March/2020. Members were taken through the WHO quality of life assessment tool exploring different perspectives and evaluation of well being. It was observed that most if not all of the tools were fit to assess the well being of the project beneficiaries. This included analysis of the fundamental aspects of recovery like independent living, good health and self care.

This was the second training following a base line survey on peer support workers which was done to assess their prior knowledge, attitude and skills before the beginning of the Peer Support activities.

Mugerwa Muzamil

Published 22nd March 2020

Kampala Mental Health Film Club - All the Bright Places (Film).jpgEvents

Kampala Mental Health Film Club – All the Bright Places (Film).

A tender antihero drama about mental health and young love which reminds us that even the heroes in our lives may need us in unexpected of situations. it is a story of Theodore Finch and Violet Marckey. Theodore Finch character brought to life by Justice smith who is a philosophical young adult and at face value larger than life. He becomes an inspiration in Violet Marckey’s (Elle Fanning) life who both first meet in grotesque of situations where she was found on the bridge contemplating suicide. It’s touching yet dramatically powerful in a sense that it defies the conventional boy meets girl love story sequences.

Viola is both timid and withdrawn. When she reluctantly pairs up with Finch on a school project. This becomes an opportunity for Finch to explore with her the small pleasures of life showing her how we grow oblivious to the beauties surrounding us as routines embed our psyche.

Both help each other face the scars of their past but it seems over weighing on Finch’s side than one could ever imagine. He had an intelligent articulation, and gaiety exudes from him. But was all of this a bravado and bluff from him or he was overwhelmed by his unlabelled mental health condition as he would say. At last, they discover that even the smallest places and moments can mean something. Live life at full brightness.

Showing soon at the National theatre; A collaboration of Butabika-East London Link, Peer Nation, Uganda Film Club and Uganda National Cultural Centre.



Global Mental Health Peer Network & Human Rights in Mental Health FGIP

COVID-19, the newly identified type of illness caused by coronavirus, declared as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020 and following an assessment, COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic on 11 March 2020, by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Since COVID-19 emerged in China and vigorously started spreading throughout the world, the internet and media has since been flooded with articles and stories related to COVID-19. The information that has been put out there, range from factual and statistical findings, future predictions of impact, recommended preventative measures to be taken to “flatten the curve”, how countries are responding (or not), conspiracy theories and speculations as to where and how COVID-19 originated from, and alarming reports of people in care homes and residential facilities being neglected and excluded from the response actions to protect human life from the potentially deadly virus.

Generally, people’s mental health are (and will be) affected by this “invisible predator” that is ravaging throughout the world and forced human life onto an unimaginable journey. The impact on mental health and wellbeing of nations raise serious concerns as people globally are forced to make radical changes in how we interact with each other and how we conduct our daily lives, with compounded concerns of financial security resulting from the decline of the global economy. Change by any means is a stress factor in any person’s life and stress in itself poses a risk for relapse or deterioration in mental health for those living with existing mental health conditions. The change that we are witnessing now poses a high risk for mental health problems that will continue to impact on people’s lives, not only those with existing mental health conditions but the broader public, even after COVID-19 has been defeated. Right now is the time, apart from curbing and eliminating the spread and health impact of COVID-19, but to strengthen the mental health system in preparation to deal with increased mental health problems and respond to the mental health needs of nations.

Peer support in times of crisis is of particular value. The lived experience between a peer support worker and the person using peer support services promotes connectedness and inspires hope. Peer support offers a level of acceptance, understanding, and validation not found in other professional services. Despite the evidence of the value of peer support work, many countries do not yet recognise this untapped expert human resource, especially in low-and-middle income countries. Right now and post-COVID, peer support workers can make an enormous impact in helping to address the mental health needs of people.

Countries all over the world have instituted restrictive measures in response to COVID-19 by placing communities into lockdown, and promote physical distancing to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. It is important to note the importance of the use of terminology and veer away from the term social distancing. The repercussions of lockdown measures have showed severe impact on both economies and communities. The world has already seen an increase in unemployment, domestic violence, suicide rates, racism, an increase in people experiencing mental health problems, and of course how people with mental health conditions, especially in care home or residential facilities are severely affected (neglected) and sadly risk dying – all directly related to the COVID-19 crisis.

Vulnerable groups, such as persons with lived experience with mental health conditions are increasingly vulnerable and more so for those with comorbid conditions. Not only are they easy targets of COVID-19 infection (because of somatic comorbidity and living in circumstances where physical distancing is impossible), but are now more than ever exposed to human rights violations resulting from inadequate response actions to protect and respect their lives and address the unique set of needs and challenges of this marginalised lived experience community in an emergency situation, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Article 11 of the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities clearly acknowledge persons with disabilities (including psychosocial disabilities) in emergency situations: “… ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk, including situations of armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and the occurrence of natural disasters.”

The Global Mental Health Peer Network as an international organisation for people with lived experience with mental health conditions and Human Rights in Mental Health FGIP an international organisation that promotes humane, ethical and user-oriented mental health services, cannot emphasise enough that it is of critical importance to involve persons with lived experience in the development of emergency response strategies from the onset, and assess the needs and challenges of the lived experience community within specific community and country contexts, and respond accordingly with specific attention to ensure that the human rights of persons with mental health conditions are at all times upheld. Persons with lived experience with mental health conditions must be authentically involved, not only in the development of the response strategy, but further in the implementation, monitoring and evaluation thereof, and also in awareness and protection campaigns.

Equality and equity must be embedded throughout the response process and execution. Accurate information on infection mitigating tips, public restriction plans and services available, as well as protective resources must be accessible to all on an equal basis. Misinformation and myths in the public domain must be replaced with reliable information, particularly considering the unnecessary anxiety caused by false information from unreliable sources.

People with lived experience with mental health conditions may particularly be susceptible to stress and anxiety caused by the COVID-19 crisis which could pose a serious risk of deterioration of existing mental health conditions, and therefore must have readily available treatment options (as and how they define their needs), access to adequate and responsive support services and programs, including peer-to-peer support or peer support groups, and suicide prevention programs.

A large number of people with mental health conditions who are living in care homes or residential facilities, including psychiatric hospitals are often the forgotten and abandoned of society. Sadly, stories have emerged in the media where residents or patients of such institutions have been neglected and excluded from COVID-19 response strategies. This is unacceptable.

Lockdown and restrictive measures implemented by countries where physical distancing is promoted, many care homes, residential facilities and hospitals prohibits visitations, and this particularly affect residents or patients in these institutions. Although social connectedness has been encouraged by WHO and experts in mental health, during this time of physical distancing, residents or patients are isolated from the outside world and may experience compounded feelings of loneliness and distress. Government departments must take it upon themselves to support these institutions (where required) to ensure that access to alternative forms of communication (telephone and online communications technologies) are available to residents or patients to maintain connection with their relatives, friends or peers from the outside on a regular basis.

Dire shortages of protective gear (face masks, surgical gloves, sanitizers) within the health system and more so in social care homes and residential facilities, have made headline news. The “forgotten and abandoned” in care homes and residential facilities have been at the end of the line to obtain these essential protective gear – where those working in these institutions have been placed in a near to impossible situation, expected to control a potential outbreak and protect themselves and those they care for from COVID-19 in these institutions. Human rights places an emphasis on equality and inclusivity – at no point may any specialized or other facility that cares for persons with mental health conditions be left behind or discarded as second class citizens.

We salute the health workers who risk their own lives and their own mental health, working tirelessly to protect the world against this potentially deadly disease. We also acknowledge those who are in particular placing focus on ensuring that vulnerable groups, such as people with mental health conditions, are protected and not left behind.

A particular extension of gratitude to WHO and in specific Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who is tirelessly working to try and protect the world from this deadly virus and ensure that its impact is minimized as far as possible. Founder/CEO: Ms Charlene Sunkel CEO: Prof Robert Van Voren


Partners in support of the statement

Jakub Bil (CEO: Inclusive Habitat Project)Jaclyn Schess (CEO/ Founder: Generation Mental Health)Matthew Jackman (Global Lived Experience Ambassador: Generation Mental Health)Laura Smith (Australian Representative: GMHPN Executive Committee)Iregi Mwenja (CEO: PDO Kenya)Celline Cole (Global Mental Health Academic and Advocate)Enoch Li (Managing Director: Bearapy)Eleni Misganaw (Global Mental Health Advocate/ President: Mental Service Users’ Association Ethiopia)Katrina Anna McIntosh (Executive Manager/ Mental Health Specialist/ Author)Hannah Stewart (Doctoral Student: UTHealth Science Center, Department of Health Promotion & Behavioral Science)Chantelle Booysen (Global Mental Health Advocate + Social Impact Entrepreneur: SADAG KwaZulu-Natal, Global Mental Health Peer Network, Young Leaders for Global Mental Health)Abanga Marie Angele (Founder and CEO: Hope for the Abused and Battered)Japheth Obare (Chairperson of Schizophrenia Society of Kenya, Mental Health Advocate, Missionary: Schizophrenia Society of Kenya, Oasis of Mercy)Lucy Goldsmith (Postdoctoral Research Fellow and member of Executive Committee: GMHPN/ St George’s, University of London)Karen Athié (Global Mental Health Advocate/ Primary mental health care researcher/ Psychossocial Support and Vulnerable Population Director/Superintendent: Health Secretariat in Rio de Janeiro State/Brazil)Swetha Bindu Jammalamadugu (Global Mental Health Peer Network advocate/ MMED Psychiatry candidate at University of Botswana: GMHPN/ University of Botswana)Joseph Atukunda (Executive GMHPN Uganda/ President Heartsounds Uganda)Edward Nkurunungi (Executive Director: Peer Nation)Jonathan Douglas (Psychologist: Central Ontario Psychology/ Board of Directors: Badge of Life Canada)Christine Newman (LGBTQ2S Peer Support Advisor/Lived Experience Facilitator, Mood Disorders Society of Canada, Peer and Trauma Support Systems)  

To add your name/ organisation as a signatory in support of the statement, please email your details to:

Profile of an Inspirational PeerPeer Stories

Monthly profile of an inspirational Peer: Jeanette

Jeanette was in her final year of University in 2011. She was studying for a degree in Economics in Kampala and living with her family. During the last semester, as the pressure of her final exams was beginning to grow, Jeanette’s family started to notice that she was talking a lot and making funny comments about people. She was not making sense. This was very out of character for Jeanette, and her family became concerned. Jeanette herself felt very excited and energetic about life. She knew her exams were soon approaching, but instead of attending classes, she began to spend all day walking aimlessly, she couldn’t concentrate, in fact she was barely eating as she was so distracted.

As the weeks quickly passed, Jeanette soon realised that there was not enough time to study and she began to fear that she would not pass her exams. This led Jeanette to feel very stressed and anxious. So much so, she started crying and at times this could last all night. She was hardly sleeping. Her family became even more concerned. Her mood appeared to be swinging from one extreme to the other. At times she would feel powerful, she thought she would graduate soon. Other times she feared the exams and cried.

Throughout this time, Jeanette’s classmates called her, to find out where she was. Sometimes she would pick up, and say she was coming, but she knew this was a lie. Then Jeanette lost her phone.

As the weeks past, Jeanette’s family tried their best to cope alone. They tried to keep Jeanette inside by locking the house. However, Jeanette found the key and was able to get out. She felt she had important things she needed to do, and at times would return late at night. The neighbours were talking about Jeanette, because they too had noticed the change in her behaviour. Some believed she was pretending she was sick to avoid the exams. After four weeks, Jeanette’s father decided it was time to seek help. He said, “Jeanette, let’s go to see the doctor”. Jeanette agreed. She knew something was not right, but she didn’t know what.

At first, Jeanette spent 3 days at a nearby clinic. After having numerous tests, such as for malaria and finding nothing, the doctors advised her father to take her to Butabika, the National Psychiatry Referral Hospital. Jeanette’s father was receptive to this and brought Jeanette to the outpatient department. At Butabika, the doctors realised that Jeanette’s symptoms, of talkativeness, lack of sleep and personal neglect may all be symptoms of a mental health condition, called bipolar disorder. They told her father that Jeanette needed to have an injection and be admitted.  Jeanette’s sister was not allowed to stay with her, and Jeanette felt scared when she arrived on the ward.

Jeanette spent 3 weeks in hospital. This was a challenging time, being separated from her family. She began to receive tablet medication. These medications reduced the symptoms, but led to feeling drowsy, and sleeping all day. During this time, Jeanette’s family visited regularly and one day they were able to take Jeanette home, provided she continued her medication and came back for review.

Although Jeanette now had a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and was prescribed medication, the next five years of her life was interrupted by relapses and readmissions to hospital. Although she was able to complete her degree, she wasn’t able to progress further with her career. Jeanette denied her situation and refused to believe she needed medication. During this time, Jeanette would throw her medication away, and not come for her reviews. Even when she had money for transport, she would stop on the way. Jeanette’s family believed she was taking treatment and did not understand why she so frequently felt depressed, or overly energetic, or at times both.

In 2016, Jeanette was admitted to hospital and staying in the female recovery ward, when somebody approached her and asked her name. Jeanette was surprised when Angela introduced herself as a peer support worker. She had never heard of peer support before. Angela spoke to Jeanette for some time, she explained that she too had bipolar disorder, and offered to visit her at home.

From this point, Jeanette began to meet Angela every month. During these visits, Angela shared her story and experience of recovery. Through these meetings, Jeanette began to realise that she wasn’t alone. Angela had experienced challenges too, but she was still strong. This was life changing. Jeanette began to accept her diagnosis of bipolar disorder. She realised her first episode at University was triggered by pressure to succeed in exams, and the feeling of missing support from her mother, who had passed away two years before. Looking back, Jeanette could see that she had not been able to grieve her mother’s death, instead feeling she had to stay strong for her family.

With this new understanding, Jeanette regretted the time she had wasted. She came to see that mental illness is like any other sickness. You can live with it usefully, without it being a hindrance to your success. From this point on, Jeanette began to take her medication. It took some time to see the benefit, but Jeanette believed that as it had worked for Angela, it would work for her.

Following this, Jeanette’s relapses decreased. In fact, she began to work as a peer support worker herself. This allowed her to offer the same support to others that she had received. She recalls one peer she supported. At first, she struggled to find him. Then, with the help of the LC chairman, she found him at his house, tired and sickly. Then Jeanette met the peer’s mother, who was rude, and did not accept her son was ill. However, with the help of the community outreach team from Butabika Hospital, Jeanette was able to sensitise the family to mental health problems, and transport was arranged for the peer to receive treatment in hospital. In the end, the mother was grateful, and this gave Jeanette the courage to continue her work. Now, after many years, Jeanette can see how vital peer support is. Her story is a powerful tool to share with people. Through peer support, people can begin to believe in themselves and build a structure to their lives that supports recovery.

Jeanette now believes the main problem is people hiding their challenges, instead of opening out and sharing. The tragedy is, people live with sickness, even though treatment is available. This is because of the stigma in society towards mental illness. How society treats people with mental illness affects how they think of themselves. Jeanette hopes for a future where there is more funding for mental health services and peer support in Uganda.

West Uganda Mental Health Service Improvement Project (WUMH) - Peer NationPeer Stories

Monthly profile of an inspirational Peer, Jane’s Story

Monthly profile of an inspirational Peer

Jane – Uganda’s first peer support worker for mental health

In her early life, Jane followed a calling to become a religious nun, taking up her training after completing her secondary education. It was 1978, when, only days away from taking her final vows, Jane became unwell.

Jane was observed by her religious sisters to be moving from one place to another, with no purpose. She slept little. She was talking things that were not combined. It was so concerning that Jane was taken to Mulago Hospital, where she was referred to Butabika.

Jane stayed in Butabika for 6 weeks. Unfortunately, shortly after her discharge, she relapsed and was readmitted to hospital. Her mental health problems, diagnosed as bipolar disorder, had interrupted her training and her dream of becoming a nun would no longer be possible.

Jane moved back to her family home where she stayed with her parents. Although she felt very bad that she could not become a nun, she reconciled herself, saying “many are called, but few are chosen”. Next, Jane set her sights on building her own family. She prayed to find a husband, and after 4 years her prayers were answered.

Jane remembers she was walking to church with her brother when she heard somebody approaching her. This person touched her back, and when she turned around it was a man who said, “I want you to become my wife”. Jane has always been open about her mental health challenges. She said to him she is a patient of Butabika Hospital. This was not a problem as her husband-to-be believed mental illness could be treated. Jane felt accepted by him.

A short while after their introduction ceremony, Jane had her third relapse. This was her last. Since then, she has enjoyed a happy family life with her husband, children and grandchildren. Indeed, a number of years later, Jane began working as a seamstress at Butabika Hospital. With her own lived experience, Jane could see that patients at Butabika needed support from someone with a similar sickness.

So, Jane started to talk to patients and their families at the outpatient department and occupational therapy department. She did this voluntarily, alongside her work as a seamstress. Jane used her own personal experience to support her peers – talking about her recovery, taking medication and the importance being self-reliant, earning money and staying occupied. Jane also promoted self-acceptance – a key part of recovery. Jane was motivated by the gratitude of patients and their families. She could see her work was really making a difference.

For the first few years, Jane worked independently. She had no formal training and was not paid. From 2004 onwards, she began receiving support from clinicians at the occupational therapy department. Then, in 2012, she was given training alongside others as part of a funded programme. This programme helped her to support peers in different ways, from the ward to their homes. Although this presented some challenges, including managing the expectations of her clients, it didn’t stop Jane. She continues to work as a peer support worker today. In fact, some of those she supported are now peer support workers themselves. Others are married and have children and are enjoying life in recovery. She is rightly proud of this achievement

Jane has now been 36 years without a relapse, 20 of which she has spent supporting her peers. She believes her peer support role has helped her maintain her own recovery – through providing employment and a sense of purpose. She has even been featured on a national TV programme with the Director of Butabika Hospital.

Jane has been open about her mental health challenges from the beginning. She says “For me I don’t hide my sickness. People see me – they say, are you the one with the mental illness? I reply, Yes, I am. I am on treatment and I am in recovery”.

This way, Jane fights mental health stigma in the community and wherever she is. So many people have benefited from her advice, support and wisdom. Jane can be considered Uganda’s first peer support worker for mental health. Now, she is a member of Peer Nation, a service-user led organisation. Being part of Peer Nation gives Jane the opportunity to spend time with and support her peers, as well as contributing to projects such as the monthly outreach programme with the community psychiatric nurses.

Jane has a few key pieces of advice for recovery that she wishes to share:

  • Mental illness can be treated and recovery is possible
  • Accept yourself for the way you are
  • Follow the advice of doctors
  • Seek employment, so you are useful and have independence
  • If something has stressed you, tell somebody, don’t keep it in your heart as this may cause relapse
  • Be hopeful
  • Fight stigma

She also wants to thank her husband, her children and other family members who have supported her, her benefactor and his family, the staff at Butabika who have loved her and not stigmatised her, members of the community who have supported her work as a tailor, and her fellow peer support workers.

After so many years of hard work, mostly voluntary and unpaid, you might think Jane is considering retirement. This is not the case. She says, “If I am able, I will continue”. Although she was not able to fulfil her youthful ambition to be a nun, Jane has followed a different calling in life – supporting those with similar challenges to herself and fighting mental health stigma every day.

Jane is also a tailor of Gomesi and school uniform. If you would like to support Jane through her tailing, please contact Peer Nation and we will share her contacts.

Peer Nation - The Beautiful Mind Project2Peer Stories

Monthly profile of an inspirational peer – Paulson’s Story

Paulson was born alone, the only child of his mother and father. Growing up, he lived at his father’s extended family homestead. He attended school until Senior 6, and then began doing manual work around the village.

Paulson was earning well, in fact, he managed to save one million shillings. However, one of the leaders at church started to notice a change in Paulson. He was working so much – at home, in the village and at church – he was too overactive, he barely slept. He was also becoming very talkative.

Something wasn’t right. Paulson’s family took him directly to Bosa Mental Health Unit at Mulago Hospital. Paulson remembers being given an injection, and then tablets to take. He was sent back home.

Paulson began to take the medication every day. He didn’t know what it was for, or whether he was going to get better. Then, something very frightening happened. Paulson’s tongue went out, “like a dog”, he says. Paulson went to Mengo Hospital and they recognised this as a side effect of the medication he was taking, called Haldol, and so they changed it. Nevertheless, this was a very scary experience for Paulson and his family.

Over the next few years, Paulson went back to Mulago for reviews, mostly by himself, although at times friends would accompany him. He remembers frequent changes in his medication, yet still, Paulson lacked a proper explanation for his condition. It wasn’t until the Community Mental Health Initiative (COMHI) started providing information and psychosocial support at Bosa Mental Health Unit, that Paulson came to understand his diagnosis of bipolar disorder and why he was taking medication.

The years of suffering with this illness and the associated stigma had led many of Paulson’s friends to abandon him, he felt dumped. At his father’s homestead, he lacked siblings to care for him. He does however remember that his grandmother, church and primary school friends were supportive. When staff from COMHI began to visit Paulson at home, he began to feel hopeful again. It was empowering to know that people were coming to visit him and cared about him.

Unfortunately, as things started to improve for Paulson, he suffered a major relapse when the clinic was out of stock of his medication. As his symptoms worsened, Paulson was taken to his mother’s side. From there he was taken to a traditional healer, then a herbalist, who used herbs to treat mental illness and charged Paulson’s Uncle a lot of money. First, Paulson’s hair was cut off, he was chained by his hands and legs and herbs were placed on his body. He remembers now how much they itched his head. He was left there for 5 days. One night, when Paulson was unchained, he managed to escape. He moved the whole night through the unfamiliar area, walking 5 miles before a local pastor found him the next morning and took him home. Luckily, Paulson could remember his father’s phone number and his uncle was sent to collect him. By this time, Paulson was very far from his home and very tired. The herbal treatment had led to no improvement in his health.

From there, Paulson was taken back to father’s homestead. Paulson knew he needed his medication and was taken to outpatient department at Butabika by a friend. He had never seen Butabika before. After a few visits to the outpatient department at Butabika without major improvement, Paulson was admitted to Butabika for the first time. He recalls he met peers in similar situations and some who had suffered more. During the weeks, he was visited by his father, brother and church members. However, other family members did not make the journey to see Paulson, which made him feel rejected.

He was discharged after 6 weeks in hospital. He returned to his father’s homestead, but he was not working. He tried to reconnect with friends, but he heard whispers… “He’s mad” … “He should be at Butabika”. He gave up. He started waking up late. He lost hope. He now recalls thinking: “I don’t know how I can become someone again in my life”.

At this point, one of Paulson’s primary school teacher asked his family, “What are you planning for Paulson?” She could see he had potential and was able to connect him to a job at a furniture mart. It was difficult for Paulson, now in his mid-20s to learn alongside teenagers. However, when he became a Sales Manager, he started to really excel. For the first time since his illness began, he was able to make money and save. This helped Paulson to buy new clothes, support his grandmother and feel like an important person in the community. He had a purpose, and his self-esteem grew day by day.  

During this time, Paulson continued to travel to Butabika for reviews, although the journey was far. He saw people on the ward, and he thought, “How do I help these people?”. It was then that he heard about an opportunity to become a peer support worker. As he began his training alongside fellow peers he thought: “all the people around me are service users, I have a new family to share with”. During the training, Paulson acquired the skills to help people on the ward. He felt empowered to use his lived experience to support others going through similar challenges.

Today, Paulson has a wife who knows about his challenges but wouldn’t give up on him. He has a baby boy, is growing his business and is living a happy and productive life.

Paulson’s story shows how you can overcome the challenges of being produced alone and having bipolar disorder. Paul faced stigma and barriers to work when he first returned from Butabika. However, he has demonstrated how, if given the opportunity, people who have faced mental health challenges can work and can be productive in the community.

Everybody has a right to health, to work, to a family life and to be a member of their community, including people facing mental health challenges. We must fight against stigma and discrimination.

Peer Nation new year addressEvents

Peer Nation new year address

Happy new year to the world’s most supportive peers, partners, colleagues, the mental health fraternity and all well-wishers. We are happy to have enjoyed the past year with you and may this year bring more joy and success to your lives.

For the year we have put behind, here at Peer Nation we have managed to kick start the Western Uganda Mental Health Service Improvement project (WUMH) in partnership with Tropical Health and Education Trust (THET), East London NHS foundation Trust, London, UK (ELFT) and Makerere University, Kampala Uganda.

The WUMH project in the year 2021 commenced in October and aims to strengthen the mental health care system in Uganda for refugee and host communities in West Nile province and South western Uganda. The WUMH project started with a refresher training of PSWs trainer of trainers which was successfully completed in November, concurrently PSWs identification and recruitment among beneficiaries took place. The PSW trainer of trainers’ insight and experiences in the field of mental health was recorded on videos and stored for sharing with the identified PSWs and stake holders of the project.

As we ushered in the new year 2022, on 10th of January PSWs training in Arua and Mbarara begun and went on for a duration of three weeks. After the training, peer support work in refugee and host communities is to be activated and also online supervision and training platform is to be developed. PSWs support groups are to be created to share experiences, insights, advise and way forward to improve outcome.

WUMH service improvement project will increase the number of clinical staff in mental illness, neurological illness and substance abuse (MNS) among the target groups. It is also a pilot project to reinforce the mental health care system with PSWs in the communities. Specialists Mental health (MH) units will be more knowledgeable and confident about supporting the community based PSW approach in mental health care.

We are grateful and appreciative for acquisition of laptops, projectors and screens from THET, this really improved the quality of our filming. We extend further our appreciation to OSF-Africa formerly OSIEA for the office furniture in addition to the grant that enabled us setup an office.  Thanks and happy new Year!!!!!

 Monthly profile of an inspirational Peer, Harriet’s storyPeer Stories

 Monthly profile of an inspirational Peer – Harriet’s story

 Monthly profile of an inspirational Peer.

Harriet’s story

Harriet first began to experience mental health challenges after she delivered her first born. With her husband out of the country, Harriet travelled to a hospital far from home, accompanied by only her carer to have her baby. Both Harriet and her carer were only young girls who had just finished school. When Harriet was told she needed to have a caesarean to deliver her baby, she lacked someone older to guide her. She was scared. 

In the days after the birth of her first born, Harriet says “many things happened in my life”. First, she felt excited and happy and wasn’t able to sleep. Then she and her baby both got sick. Her carer feared to give her food because of the caesarean, and so she didn’t eat for a week, she was just depending on drinks. She began to feel so weak and tired. When a doctor came and told her to start eating again, she remembers crying because she felt so bad. Then, she says “everything became zigzag”.

By the time she was ready for discharge, she wasn’t herself anymore. She was overactive, she remembers trying to give away all of her money to the doctors and nurses that looked after her and taking their pics. Someone said, “this is not normal”, and she was sent to Mulago Hospital for assessment.

Soon after going to Mulago, she was referred to the mental department. She remained there for almost a month, although she says, it felt like only a few days. Finally, she was discharged home, she was told to take medication, but she didn’t know what it was for. One day, when she went for review, she asked the doctor, who told her that she was struggling with mental illness. This was a shock to Harriet. She had thought her problems came from when she stopped eating, and that she would be better in a few weeks. Instead, at home, her situation got worse. She couldn’t wash, she couldn’t eat, she couldn’t look after her baby. She didn’t know what was happening. She felt stranded. Now looking back, she can see that she was severely depressed.

Harriet’s brother took care of her during this time, and somehow as the weeks and months passed, she got better. After four years passed, Harriet became pregnant and soon delivered her second child. Soon after, Harriet’s symptoms of depression returned. She remained in bed all day. It got so bad that she even tried to end her life. She thought to herself “I was working, now I’m not working. I can’t do anything for myself, I better die”. Harriet had hit rock bottom a friend referred her to HeartSounds, a peer support organisation for people with mental health challenges in Kampala.

The first day Harriet went to meet the members of this organisation, she got out of the taxi far away and walked a long distance to reach there. She didn’t want people to know she had a mental problem, fearing being stigmatised. When she arrived, she couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Here was someone with mental illness who was driving a car. Here was another person who looked so smart with his laptop computer, there was another who was going to study abroad. She thought to herself “If all of these people can do this, why not me?”.

She went back each day and began to gain strength and hope. By the end of the first week, she asked the taxi to stop right in front. She wasn’t ashamed anymore, her self-stigma* was reducing and she was learning to love herself. She also secured a job with the organisation. Soon, she was getting up early for work, there was enough support at work-place and life became normal and enjoyable.

After two years she got pregnant again. Unfortunately, Harriet’s pattern of illness repeated, and she was plunged again into a deep depression. At this point, neither her or her husband were working, and life in Kampala was too tough. She was overwhelmed. However, this time, when she started having suicidal thoughts, she knew there were people she could talk to, who she trusted, and who understood her. She reached out to her peers, who looked after her during this difficult time, and she started to feel better. She said to herself, “I know my body, I know myself, I need to take medication”.

At this time, Harriet was picked for a new project at Butabika Hospital. She was trained as a peer support worker, to help people facing mental health challenges. Through this role, she supported many people who got better, who went back to school and gained back their lives. Harriet says this work made her life better both psychologically and physically than ever before, she really loved herself and started shining.

Since then, Harriet has gone from strength to strength. She is studying for a degree at a prestigious University, she has a stable job of her dream where she is still supporting many people undergoing mental challenges, has her own business, a comfortable house for her family. Her children are healthy and excelling at school and her husband understands her and is supportive.

She says “before, when I heard the word Butabika, I felt sick because of self-stigma*. Now, I know myself. I know when I need a review, and I can take myself there”. Harriet has suffered from severe illness, but she has shown that mental health challenges can be overcome, with the right support and self-love. Now, she says “I feel proud of myself, I am a role model to many”.

This is Harriet’s story. She also wants to share these messages for anyone who is struggling with mental health challenges:

  • Recovery is possible and real
  • No health without mental health
  • Nothing for us without us
  • Say no to stigma
  • Speak out for help, don’t keep quiet
  • Believe in yourself and love your-self
  • Be a person to inspire others
  • Learn to motivate yourself and others
  • Learn to say, “I can do it better”

*What is self-stigma?

Self-stigma occurs when a person with mental health challenges becomes aware of negative attitudes towards people with mental illness, for example that they are bad or weak, and believes they are true. This affects the person’s self-esteem, making them feel unworthy of love or a good life. Overcoming self-stigma by learning to believe in yourself and love yourself again is an important part of recovery, shown here in Harriet’s story.

Published 15th April 2021

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