Consider the Importance of Mental Health Care in Society: Alumni Spotlight

** Content warning: Violence and genocide

Patient Kwizera is an alum of the Hilton Prize Coalition Fellows. In this blog, Patient reflects on his fellowship placement and where he is now in the humanitarian space. 

According to the World Health Organization, if we don’t act urgently, by 2030 depression will be the leading illness globally.

When it comes to responding to that crisis, it’s hard to imagine that developed countries have one psychiatrist for every 2,000 people. There are other countries—in Africa, Asia, and also in Latin America—where there is only one mental health worker for one million or more people. This shocking fact was stated by Dr. Shekhar Saxena, who oversaw the WHO’s efforts on mental health in 2016. When one digs even deeper into these details, there are even more appalling facts to be found. In the same year,there were 31.1 million new internal displacements by conflict, violence and disasters. This is the equivalent to one person being forced to flee every second. When it comes to women, mental health is a nightmare. 35 percent of women worldwide say they had experienced violence in their lifetime, whether physical, sexual, or both. One in ten girls under the age of 18 were forced to have sex, leaving them with unbearable psychological consequences.

By all accounts, mental health is, of course, a serious and widespread issue around the world. In order to understand mental health in my country, I must take you back to April 1994. During this time in Rwanda, the horrific genocide perpetrated against the Tutsi was taking place. This atrocious act left about one million people dead in a period of only three months. Neighbors went after neighbors by means of guns, machetes, and sticks by conducting house-to-house searches and by creating roadblocks and central congregation points to hunt for individuals. People also looted, destroyed peoples’ property, and committed other genocidal acts, such as murder and sexual violence. These hellish experiences that Rwandans endured 25 years ago has resulted in serious lifelong mental suffering—not only affecting individuals, but often families, communities, and even future generations. While sometimes the consequences of the genocide are very apparent, other times it remains obscure until it becomes threatening.

It used to be very difficult for me to understand why s0 little was done to address the problem of mental health care. It really shouldn’t be that hard, right? Without mental healthcare, a large number of people in Rwanda cannot function within the family, community, and workplace. Recent studies have shown that a frightening number of people cannot even participate in the socioeconomic development of the country. This lack of mental health care frustrated me deeply, but also inspired me to create an organization to address this problem. Build2heal focuses on the availability, accessibility, acceptability, and quality of mental health care in Rwanda.

For the past three years, I have been advocating for mental health care. I continued this advocacy through the Hilton Prize Coalition Fellows Program I completed my fellowship at Clubhouse International and learned how to develop my own Clubhouse. I studied the extensive documentation on the Quality Standards and the process of Clubhouse Accreditation, and I examined how to run a successful Clubhouse.

During my fellowship, I found Clubhouses to be a perfect match for Rwanda because their model of care responded to the genocidal experience. During the genocide, social bonds were completely destroyed. Clubhouse offered people living with mental illness the opportunities for friendship, employment, housing, education, and access to medical and psychiatric services in a caring and safe environment.

After the fellowship, I shared my knowledge with my colleagues from Build2heal in Rwanda, and we have made huge progress in addressing mental health problems. We have designed a concrete plan to start many clubhouses in Rwanda, and we are currently reaching out to volunteers and many other organizations to partner with them in addressing the barriers of mental health care in Rwanda.

There is no doubt a large number of the Rwandan population that is seeking mental health care, and there is no reason they should not receive it.

About the Hilton Prize Coalition

The  Hilton Prize Coalition  is an independent alliance of the winners of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, working together to achieve collective impact. Through three signature programs—the  Fellows Program, the  Collaborative Models Program  and the  Storytelling Program—the Coalition leverages the resources, talents and expertise of each of its members to innovate and establish best practices that can be shared with the global NGO and donor communities. Working in more than 170 countries, the Coalition is governed by a board comprised of the leaders of the Prize-winning organizations led by an Executive Committee and a Secretariat,  Global Impact.

To learn more about the Hilton Prize Coalition, visit  prizecoalition.charity.org, or contact  prizecoalition@charity.org. Follow  the Hilton Prize Coalition on  Twitter and  LinkedIn, and “Like” us on Facebook.

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