Stories of Hope

Working with churches to improve care for people with mental illness

June 14, 2018

“Nabwire” is a 30 year old female from the Wakiso district of Uganda living with chronic psychosis. She comes from a nuclear family that has a strong belief in God. While carrying out a service user’s assessment, we learned that Nabwire had been kept in chains for two months before she was brought to the mental hospital.

In search for a remedy for a ‘condition’ that her family could not understand, Nabwire was taken to a church for healing by her mother. While there, Nabwire was chained to a pole where she was fed and prayed for. She eased herself in a small bucket that was placed by her side. It would be emptied by her mother who occasionally came to check on her. Chaining Nabwire was a common occurrence that the community did not perceive as wrong. Nabwire herself believed that she was being helped — “I was taken to church to be able to get treatment” she told us.

At the time she was referred to Butabika hospital, Nabwire had become violent, making a lot of noise in the church neighborhood. It was then that the church authorities called the police, who took her to Butabika.

A young man with mental illness chained at a local church to be prayed for.

Nabwire had been abandoned at the hospital for four months when the YouBelongHOME team started working with her. Her family had abandoned her because they were frustrated after she had “been prayed for” in vain. They thought prayers would help her stabilize and when they did not, the family did not know what else to do. Nabwire had low self-esteem and was not motivated to embark on her journey of recovery. We worked with her and her family to return her home and get support.

During our post discharge visits, the team also visited the church to meet with the priest and try to understand his perception about mental illnesses and its treatment. We solicited his support to help his followers understand the importance of seeking treatment alongside receiving prayers. While at the church, we saw the place where people with mental illnesses are chained while they are prayed for. To our surprise, we found a young man with mental illness who was chained to a pole. We were told by the caretaker that he was abandoned there by his relatives to be prayed for. We spoke with the caretaker about having this young man admitted to the mental hospital for treatment. YouBelong aims to create bridges — including those between religious institutions and practices and the mental health care system.