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.

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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.

 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

Profile of an Inspirational PeerPeer Stories

Monthly Profile of an inspirational Peer: James’ mental health journey

Learning from lived experience: James’ story

James’ story starts when he returned to Uganda, after studying for a degree overseas. He was a high-flying student with good grades, but after graduating he found it difficult to find employment. Somehow university hadn’t prepared him for this challenge. He tried to get a job, then his relatives tried to help, but they were not successful. At this time, James started to find that strange ideas were flowing into his head. How can I provide for myself? How can I give back to my family? How do I go through this? The number of thoughts began to overwhelm him.

Whilst James grappled with these thoughts, he travelled with his Father to visit relatives in the village. Increasingly, he began to feel afraid, he didn’t feel safe in the places he was moving to. When he returned to Kampala, he could not settle. It was then, he recalls, his illness really took hold. He was somehow disturbed, not normal, he says. James did not know at the time that he was beginning to experience the symptoms of a mental illness.

Looking back now, James remembers how he started to see importance and significance in small things, making associations that weren’t true. He was preoccupied by the idea of a mass migration of people to a far-away place. He tried to imagine this place and drew maps. He kept a book where he wrote down his ideas, because his memory was so poor at the time, he was worried he would forget them. The ideas made sense to James, but to others they made no sense at all.

James was not violent, but his family were so worried they locked him in the house. Despite this, he would sometimes get out and wander on the streets. He remembers losing a shoe, approaching people he did not know, disturbing others. One time, people thought James was a thief. He was badly beaten. Luckily, he was rescued by a woman who knew him. He says, “this was my worst moment”.

All this time James’ family were trying to seek help. His behaviour had caused a rift to emerge, with everyone blaming each other. They thought demons were causing him to behave like this. What they didn’t know is that it was a mental illness, and it was nobody’s fault. They first sought guidance from their religious leaders, who provided James spiritual support he still values to this day. However, as time went on and James did not improve, the family resolved to bring James to a medical doctor.

James now remembers being taken to visit a family member near Butabika Hospital. From here, he was taken to the clinic and then admitted to the hospital. He spent almost 2 weeks in hospital, and he remembers meeting other patients, who James now calls peers, on the ward. He also received regular visits from his relatives and because of their support, he was discharged early and received further care from Bosa Mental Health Unit at Mulago Hospital, with first weekly, then monthly appointments. Gradually, James began to recover. He stopped seeing value and importance in simple objects, his ideas and thoughts about migrations of people became less frequent and salient. However, the path was not completely smooth. He travelled back to the village on the advice of his psychiatrist, but one day he decided to travel back to Kampala alone. He was still not well enough to undertake such a journey and had to be physically restrained by another man. He remembers during the tussle his mother was nearby making recitations. He was overpowered and stayed in the village for some time. He became less paranoid, but the anxiety persisted for a while longer. Gradually, and he now doesn’t know how, he came to recognise that he was unwell, he had an illness and had not been himself. This is called insight.

James’ family were instrumental in his recovery. Not only did they help him get the care he needed, they stayed beside him, accompanying him to his appointments and involving him in daily errands like shopping, so he could stay part of his local community. His uncle and aunt were particularly important, by taking James regularly to the supermarket where they worked, he was able to get used to the work environment again. They also supported him financially and even helped him to find a job. Failing to find employment had been an important trigger in James’ mental illness. Having a job provided structure and all-important confidence and self-esteem. He says, “they had confidence in me that I could manage”.

James also found support from a group of mental health service users. He was introduced to this group by his psychiatrist at the Bosa Mental Health Unit. With this group he could share his experiences and learn from other peoples’ stories. As he says, “every person has a different way to deal with things”, but in this circle you don’t feel alone. Ten years on, many of these people are his close friends and James trains others in peer support alongside a full-time job. He is now using his lived experience to help other people and challenge the stigma associated with mental illness.

James has never had another relapse, but his memories of the time are vivid and still difficult to recount. He is sharing his story to help others who may be experiencing symptoms of mental illness or know someone who is. From James’ story we learn the important lesson that people with mental illness are often perceived as the perpetrators of violence, when in fact they are more likely to be victims of violent acts. His story is a testament to the strength of people who have overcome this challenge. Thank you, James, for sharing your story with us.

*James is a pseudonym but all other parts of this story are real.

Published 5th April 2020

Inspiring Mental Health Recovery StoriesPeer Nation News

Monthly profile of An inspirational Peer – Teddy’s story

Teddy’s story

Looking back, Teddy believes her illness started when she was young. After a case of cerebral malaria, she was taken to medical hospitals, received treatment and seemed to improve. Neither her nor her guardians knew anything about mental illness.

However, when she was in her second year at University, she went to the village for family annual meetings. There she found that all her family were against her, they said she was going astray and criticised her behaviour. As a punishment, all of her hair was cut off. She returned to Kampala feeling so bad, she stayed in bed all day and wouldn’t eat. She cried and felt like she wanted to kill herself. She was supposed to be doing examinations, but she was weak and couldn’t read. She was going to miss them.

Teddy lived with her Auntie in Kampala, who took her to the University clinic. They recognised a mental health challenge and referred her to Butabika Hospital. At Butabika, a psychiatrist asked Teddy about her life story and diagnosed her with Bipolar disorder. She was experiencing a depressive episode and needed treatment.

The psychiatrist also explained to Teddy and her Auntie that Bipolar disorder may run in the family. It can be generational. However, Teddy’s aunt took this badly. She felt criticised and blamed, as if the problem was coming from home. Looking back, Teddy thinks this was a big misunderstanding. Unfortunately, it had repercussions later.

Teddy was admitted to Butabika that day. It was so unsettling to be in a new environment, but she recalls her cousin brother who visited every day, bringing food and new clothes. She says, “he was my consolation”. She stayed in hospital for a month, missing her University examinations. She was prescribed ECT treatment. This is where you are put to sleep and an electrical current is passed through your head to induce a seizure. It is a treatment for severe depression, which can be of benefit to some people. Teddy remembers being put on a bed, and a nurse saying, “Is it ready?”. She didn’t feel anything and hasn’t experienced any side effects. She was told it helps you to get new thoughts.

After a month she was discharged with medication, which she took daily. She was able to return to University and complete her course. However, in the run up to her Uncle’s wedding, which was to be a large event for the whole family, Teddy became overly excited. She was not sleeping and was talking a lot. It was abnormal and increasing on a daily basis. She was brought back to Butabika and admitted with a manic relapse.

After things settled down, she was discharged again. As she was taking lithium, she needed to go for regular blood checks. Everything was becoming expensive, and her Auntie was fed up. It didn’t help that she had felt criticised by the doctor at Butabika – thinking “the problem is at home” – although perhaps this was just a misunderstanding. Teddy was sent away. After living in the house from P5, she felt rejected.

She moved in with another Auntie who said, “you are not sick, you are making yourself sick, this medication is so expensive, it will disturb you, you will not produce”. Lacking family support, Teddy defaulted on her medication. Soon, she was readmitted to Butabika. She felt depressed and was suicidal. She did not feel loved.

At this stage in her life, Teddy decided to join a Missionary group. She was taken to Kenya. They did not know about her mental health challenges, and Teddy convinced herself she was not sick. She didn’t take medication and over the next three years the excitements and depressions would come. At times she would be taken to hospital. Nobody recognised the signs. After three years, her contract terminated, and she returned to Uganda. She felt depressed but did not want to go to Butabika – the stigma was too great to bear. Her brother found her in such a low state at her father’s house that he took her to Bosa Mental Health Unit at Mulago Hospital, crying, “what has happened to my sister?”

This time, on discharge from hospital, Teddy was referred to HeartSounds, a peer support organisation for mental health challenges in Uganda. When she went, she found lively people who were mental health users. Before, Teddy didn’t know anyone else experiencing mental health challenges. Now, she had peers to guide her and counsel her. It helped her so much. She was also chosen to receive training as a peer support worker. She became so active, “I used to say I’m useless, now I saw that I’m productive”. Since then, she has not suffered any more relapses.

Teddy now has a partner who accepts her and supports her, and two children. She is running a successful book making business and takes part in activities for Peer Nation, so she can use her lived experience to help others.

By sharing her story, Teddy has demonstrated that medication for mental health challenges does not affect fertility. She has two healthy children. Also, Teddy is able to provide for her family through her peer support work and business. Finally, she asks for family members and carers of people with mental health challenges to love and support them. Looking back on her first admission at Butabika, she says “if I hadn’t been supported by this cousin brother of mine, life would have been different”.