Today Sexual Minorities Uganda the umbrella organization for NGOs in Uganda advocating for human rights of lesbian,gay,bisexual,transgender and intersex persons, hosted an event to commemorate International day against Homophobia, Biphobia Lesbophobia and Transphobia under the theme: MENTAL HEALTH AND WELL-BEING.
IDAHOBIT is celebrated the world over in commemoration of 17th May 1990 when the World Health Organization declassified Homosexuality as a mental illness.
Sexual Minorities Uganda which started in 2004 has a growing membership of LGBTI organization including Freedom and Roam Uganda the oldest LBTI organization working on health and empowerment, Icebreakers Uganda ,Spectrum Uganda Initiatives both dealing with health advocacy for gay men and men who have sex with men, Youth on Rock Foundation which caters to health needs and empowerment of Gay men and sexworkers living in the low income areas of Kampala and Rainbow Health Foundation found in mbarara. Sexual minorities Uganda fondly known as SMUG held the colorful event at their Ntinda offices with presentations ranging from singing,poetry,dance exhibition and massages on mental health and well-being from the guest speakers and entertainers.
In his opening remarks the executive director of SMUG DR Frank Mugisha said “this is mental health awareness week and while it happens to be the international theme for IDAHOBIT 2016, SMUG had already indicated it as the theme for this year’s celebration ahead of time, we are all victims of mental illness whether manifesting as paranoia or otherwise.
Dr.Mugisha shared a personal story of a time where he was so paranoid of the homophobic persecutions that he would never sleep short of chaining his house door to a point he shifted his sleeping position to the door just to be sure no one entered his house and attacked him in his sleep. He further stressed that fear in itself of being outed leaves a lasting impact on LGBTI Ugandans resultantly affecting our mental health and wellbeing, “this is the conversation we should start having, the conversation on the mental wellbeing of LGBTI persons and the access to expert help”. Said doctor Mugisha
SMUG programs director Pepe Julian Onziema, while speaking at the event noted that in seeking for support or mental wellbeing it is important to share our stories and experiences, most often we end up helping ourselves and motivating others to share or seek psychological support and ensure mental wellbeing.
On location, were health services inclusive of HIV testing by MARPI clinic mulago and counselling by Psychology specialist Mr.Ndawula Simon the event guest speaker who took the attendees through an introductory segment on mental wellbeing and how to cope with stress. He indicated that many LGBTI Ugandans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to the homophobic and transphobic violent attacks and this manifests differently in every individual. Simon indicated that it is important to understand that there are both positive and negative mechanisms to dealing with stress situations and how one’s mental health is maintained or catered to depend on the coping mechanism one uses.
It was noted in the group discussion on the coping mechanisms of stress that many LGBTI persons have turned to drugs and alcohol abuse as a way of dealing with stress. This has resulted into growing numbers of persons addicted to drugs and alcohol. Ndawula the on location counselor indicated that there are positive coping mechanisms in ensuring mental health like meditation and identifying of support groups while dealing with stress.
Speaking at the event, Denis Wamala the programs director Icebreakers Uganda and vice chair board of directors SMUG stressed that “we all have a role to play in ensuring that mental wellbeing of our LGBTI community is catered to.”
The event that started at 9am with opening remarks and expert talk on mental wellbeing and coping with stress, included ground breaking human rights advocacy and activism mechanisms with talented poets exhibiting the power of words in the fight for equality, photo exhibition from the I AM OTHER project by Queer collective and ended at 4pm with the screening of a short film OUT and ABOUT.