Responding to Climate Disasters and Disease Outbreaks | StrongMinds

Responding to Climate Disasters and Disease Outbreaks

Climate-related environmental disasters and infectious disease outbreaks are increasingly affecting mental health in Africa. Safety concerns and loss of life, property, or livelihoods can trigger or worsen mental health disorders in the aftermath of a catastrophe. Uganda has been particularly hard-hit recently, and StrongMinds is providing much-needed mental health support in affected regions.

Pictured Above: A portion of Mbale City rests underwater after two riverbanks burst due to intense rainfall on July 30.

In July, the district of Mbale in eastern Uganda experienced historic flooding. Downpours caused several riverbanks to burst, killing 29 people and destroying hundreds of homes. Several StrongMinds current and former clients suffered devastating losses. But, thanks to our rapidly expanding presence in Mbale, they could lean on their therapy groups for emotional support. StrongMinds’ excellent reputation as an accessible mental health resource in the region ensures that others who may yet need help can find us easily.

In the remote, semi-arid Karamoja region in northeastern Uganda, livelihoods depend on cattle herding and subsistence farming. Two seasons of drought-induced crop failures and a dramatic increase in organized cattle raids by criminal gangs have left more than half a million people facing critical food insecurity. The resulting trauma and loss of life have generated profound mental health challenges for the community. StrongMinds is working with the Ministry of Health to provide ongoing mental health support to meet this acute need.

In September, a hailstorm destroyed almost all the crops in Kihanda sub-county, a predominantly agrarian community. It was the first hailstorm to hit the region in living memory. With the harvest lost, families are struggling to eat, afford school fees, and pay off the loans they took out against their expected profits. Depression is on the rise, resulting in increased alcohol abuse and gender-based violence. StrongMinds is working through our partner InPACT (Innovation Program for Community Transformation) to provide women in the region with essential mental health support during this time of critical need.

Also in September, an ebola outbreak in Uganda caused deep concern for health and safety. Some districts went into lockdown to contain the spread of the disease, adding financial stressors to a population still recovering from two years of COVID-19 lockdowns. In response, StrongMinds worked with the Ministry of Health to produce a series of radio spots and social posts for the affected regions. The ads encouraged anyone experiencing emotional distress to reach out to StrongMinds. Nearly 2800 people called our helpline as a result, with about 10% going on to enroll in therapy groups.

StrongMinds remains committed to meeting the mental health challenges resulting from sustained environmental stressors, extreme weather events, and disease outbreaks. Our adaptive, flexible therapy-delivery model and network of partners allow us to mobilize and offer therapy to anyone who needs it.