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Mental health support restores hope for refugees seeking safety in Uganda


In Uganda, with funding from ECHO, Humanity & Inclusion is helping refugees who have experienced traumatic events to heal and improve their psychosocial well-being.

Three Black women sit on a bench. They are a mother and daughter with a mental health specialist. The three women are smiling.

Beatrice, left, and Rose, right, with a mental health and psychosocial specialist from Humanity & Inclusion. | © HI

*Trigger warning: This article contains references to sexual assault.

Beatrice (not her real name) is a 49-year-old woman who fled to Uganda with her family to escape the instability in her home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo. Together with her daughter Rose (not her real name), a victim of sexual violence, she is attending psychosocial support sessions to help restore her self-acceptance and self-love.

Living with trauma

After arriving in Uganda, the traumatic experiences she had lived through in DRC still haunted Beatrice. She suffered from nightmares, sleepless nights and loss of appetite. She felt she had failed as a mother and was under great stress. She had lost hope.

Her only daughter, Rose, had been sexually assaulted. Rose was struggling to cope with the consequences of the violence inflicted on her. She was feeling a lot of anger and was short-tempered and aggressive with her siblings. After the sexual assault, Rose gave birth to a son, but couldn’t find it in her heart to love him.

When Beatrice shared her issues with a friend of hers, this friend directed her to Humanity & Inclusion. Beatrice was welcomed by a psychosocial worker who assessed her and enrolled her in a mental health support group. Beatrice convinced her daughter, Rose, to join as well. They were both enrolled in group sessions, where they joined other women who were experiencing similar or related psychological issues.

Finding acceptance and self-love

Beatrice, Rose and their family receive the visit of an HI mental health and psychosocial worker for a follow-up session. © HIThe first session was about understanding stress and how to manage it, which was helpful to Beatrice. She learned from other group members that she and her family were not alone in what they were going through, so she stopped blaming herself. Beatrice and Rose learned techniques to use when they are stressed, such as finding someone to talk to, doing breathing exercises and meeting up with other women. During the sessions, other members opened up about their struggles and it helped them come to terms with their own experiences.

After five support sessions, Beatrice's and Rose’s psychosocial well-being was much improved.

“I was so happy to see my daughter smile for the first time in a long time,” Beatrice said.

“I couldn’t sleep without taking anti-depressants," Rose recalls. "I would shout at my siblings, I really hated my life before. Since going to these sessions, my relationship with my family has improved, I am friends with my mother and my siblings now. I have realized that I can’t change what happened to me, but I can learn to accept and love myself again.”  

Life will get better with time

Beatrice says that Rose is now the one counseling her siblings at home. She has also become active again, doing chores and helping around their home. Rose now talks, smiles, loves her son and sleeps well without anti-depressants. The whole family is now living harmoniously together. They have even started a small catering business.

Beatrice is very appreciative of how the sessions have not only helped her but her family as well. They can now discuss, smile and work together. She now believes that life will get better with time.

Through this project, funded by the European Union Humanitarian Aid, newly arrived asylum seekers and refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, as well as their host communities, received protection and mental health support through access to protection, empowerment, accountability and leadership activities. Between May 2022 and February 2023, 2,006 people were given mental health and psychosocial support and 825 people received physical and functional rehabilitation assistance.
Date published: 08/01/23


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