On February 17, 2023, the Uganda Youth and Adolescents Health Forum, in partnership with Touch a Heart Uganda, organized a workshop on “Addressing Mental Health and SRH Needs of Young People,” which was attended by 25 young people from different Kampala suburbs, including university students, youth advocates, and out-of-school slum youth, among others.
The Friday afternoon activity held at the UYAHF Youth Hub in Bukoto had the young people share their experiences around mental health issues and also discuss and learn the linkage between mental health and sexual and reproductive health.
The activity was organized under the objectives: to discuss the linkages between mental health and SRH outcomes among youth, to identify the challenges and barriers to youth accessing mental health and SRH services, to share best practices and innovative approaches to addressing youth mental health and SRH needs, and to investigate how youth-led initiatives and advocacy can promote youth mental health and SRH rights and wellbeing.
Joanne Lunkuse, the coordinator of advocacy and partnerships at UYAHF, opened the workshop with a series of games as an innovative way to uplift the young people’s energy for active participation during the sessions.
She then took them through an engaging discussion on the linkages between mental health and SRH outcomes among young people, noting that it is complex and bidirectional.
“Research shows that young people with mental health disorders are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior, have higher rates of unintended pregnancies and STIs, and are at a higher risk of experiencing GBV.” She
Lunkuses further stated that young people who experience negative SRH outcomes such as unintended pregnancies or STIs are at a higher risk of developing mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety
Her session was followed by an introduction to the importance of mental health and SRH for young people, led by Mr. Don Zane Muwanguzi, a mental health expert and the team leader of Awesome Mind Speaks Uganda, a non-government organization that works around mental health. Muwanguzi emphasized that mental health and SRH are interconnected and that a lack of attention to either one can have serious consequences for the overall health and wellbeing of a person, including young people.
“One key point that emerged during my engagement with the young people is the urgent need to reduce stigma and discrimination around mental health and SRH and many of them expressed frustration in accessing information and services related to mental health, often because cultural and social barriers like stigma among other” he stated
Muwanguzi encouraged the participants to use the knowledge they have gained to break the stigma around mental health and support their colleagues, friends, and family members who might be experiencing a mental health issue. He called for more awareness-raising and advocacy to address the barriers and ensure that young people have access to the resources and information they need to live a better and healthier life.
Among the other topics discussed was the role of education in promoting mental health and SRH. Participants pointed the need for comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) in schools as well as the need for more information and education about mental health, even for those young people outside of school.
It was noted that many young people may not be aware of the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions and that more education is needed to help them identify and address these issues. Participants further highlighted the importance of peer support and community engagement in promoting mental health and SRH. Many young people expressed a desire to be more involved in their communities and to have opportunities to connect with others who share their interests and concerns.
“We hope that our sessions today will inspire further action and collaboration to improve the health and wellbeing of young people in Uganda and beyond,” said Hope, a UYAHF Champion.