When we visited Uganda early in 2022, we heard many concerns about suicide and attempted suicide being on the increase across the country. Often it was thought that the impact of Covid 19 and the associated lockdowns were behind this. Staff in many hospitals spoke of the fear, bereavement, poverty, losses and disruptions to normal life.
While we were there, we were able to meet for the first time Freddy and George, two staff from Gulu Regional Referral Hospital. Gulu has had a mental health partnership with Sheffield NHS trust for many years, and has developed the capacity to deliver training on many topics. We were really pleased to find out more from Freddy Odong about the possibility of running a Suicide Prevention workshop.
Back home, discussions and planning continued, based on Freddy’s proposal, and we reached an agreement for him to deliver a two day training event for Jamie’s Fund. Mental health staff from our more active partner hospitals would be invited to participate. Then Ebola began to spread in some districts of Uganda, necessitating travel restrictions, and some mental health staff were involved in the efforts to contain the epidemic. Thankfully it was averted, and the training went ahead in mid-December 2022.
35 staff from 18 hospitals across Uganda, both urban and rural, came to the National Psychiatric Hospital, Butabika, which was the venue for the training. Jamie’s Fund was able to cover all the costs of the training for the participants. Even before they set off, we were receiving encouraging comments from some of their managers.
Sister Flora, Senior Nursing Officer of Uganda Martyrs Hospital, Ibanda, said:
‘I heartily thank you very much for supporting us as a hospital in training our PCO and the staff; particularly in the forthcoming suicide prevention training. That was so thoughtful of Jamie’s Fund, for we can’t spend a week without a victim of suicide attempt’
A key focus was empowering them to mobilise other staff and community leaders to identify and support people at risk of attempting suicide. Traditionally suicide has not only been stigmatised, but it is still illegal in Uganda. This means that any data is an underestimate of the true scale of the problem.
We had some appreciative comments from some of the participants after the training:
‘…for sure we appreciate your support and the energy you put in to make us better whereby the training was excellent and we finished well therefore we received Certificates, knowledge and happiness.
I assure you beyond a reasonable doubt that ALL the trainees benefited and promised to apply the skills to the ground level so that all members from various corners of the world will be screened and helped therefore the number of suicidal attempts will be reduced’
‘…We successfully attended the suicide prevention training, it was so interactive.
We really appreciate the opportunity and support given to us’
‘Thank you so much for our recent training on suicide, it was very wonderful “Knowledge is Power”. You have empowered us to save lives’
‘Thank you…for facilitating this training in place, send my regards to the Trustees of Jamie’s Fund, it’s a lot added. Odong did it well, he is good’
Before and after training test scores showed increased knowledge and understanding as a result of the training (Average scores before were 65.5%, after were 75.9%)
During the training, Freddy set up a WhatsApp support group for the trainees, and has been phoning each of them to encourage them to put their training into action in their own hospitals and local communities.
And before we knew it, in mid-January, Simon Peter, one of the trainee PCOs sponsored by Jamie’s Fund, had already shared the training with a huge mixed group of staff at Ibanda Hospital.
Afterwards, Freddy commented on how passionate a staff group they were: ‘Thank you very much for trusting and giving me the opportunity for executing all the roles with Jamie’s Fund. It has been lovely working with people who have passion for mental health and serving the community’
Odong Freddy, Trainer Linda Shuttleworth, JF Trustee