World Health Day: Coping with Depression in Prison

Depression: Let’s Talk!

This is the theme for World Health Day this year which is commemorated on 7th April; meaning to empower people with depression to speak up and seek help by opening up to someone and find ways of coping. Today marks the anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organisation. Yearly, the theme is selected from a specific health topic of worldwide concern.

APP through education, sports and nutrition initiatives in Luzira Maximum Security Prison has exerted a combined impact in helping individuals cope with life in prison. At least once, prisoners will experience depression at different levels of severity. A number of initiatives have been set up by the Uganda Prison Service to make the prison environment open and supportive to positive transformation for prisoners as they serve their sentences. For instance, in education and sports. The additional advantage of these initiatives is that they help in reducing stress and provide a support system for inmates prone to depression. APP contributes to these initiatives through legal education from the University of London (UoL), nutritional support to the prisoners serving life sentences and living with HIV as well as sports activities.

In line with the theme for this year’s World Health Day, some of the beneficiaries used these initiatives as a platform to talk about their life in prison and how these initiatives have helped them cope with depression.


SPORTS

"Sport has contributed a lot to the prison. It keeps prisoners busy, and this averts their thoughts from indiscipline and undesirable behavior like planning escapes.
I have observed a lot of change among several prisoners. They come into prison depressed but start to get better after they start to engage in activities like sports and education. For some of those serving life sentences, sport is a way of escaping depressing and negative thoughts. Football is the most popular sport in the men’s prison and both prisoners and staff participate in the tournaments. Sport connects them to the world and connects them to us (staff) as well. This makes communication with them a lot easier. Interestingly, most of the prisoners who started out in sports eventually decided to join school as well.
I believe the talented football players have a future when they get released after their sentences and they need someone to guide them while they are in prison. We as Officers have a role in this"

-Mr. Mayamba Latif: Cadet Ass. Superintendent of Prisons in Charge of Sports | Luzira Upper Prison  

 

"Sports activities in the prison have help to nurture a healthy relationship between the prisoners and prison staff. When we are on the field with them, we relate freely, which is a good thing. I feel so happy when I see them playing. You know, when the player comes from the field, he eats, takes a shower and goes to sleep peacefully. Football helps so much in relieving stress. The prisoners who are engaged in sports are totally different in character. Their character is good and positive. I have seen very many prisoners changing [through sports]. There was this one young prisoner who was a problem for the community. He was stealing, fighting, drinking. When he started engaging in sports, he totally changed for the better! I kept telling him he had all the capacity to become a positive person"

Alomu James Patrick. Principal Officer II and Sports Officer | Luzira Upper Prison

 

Joel, an inmate, plays as a middle fielder for one of the teams in Luzira Upper Prison. He has participated in the sports programmes since 2014, and has won 12 trophies:

"Football can change your mind set. When you start playing, you develop something you did not have. You experience all the support of the other prisoners (players). You become a responsible person. I used to have a lot of difficulty dealing with stress when I came to prison but ever since I joined the sports programme, I have learnt how to deal with stressful situations.
Being involved in sport has also helped me to excel in my studies because when I leave the football pitch, my mind is relaxed and I’m ready to read. Secondly I excel on the football pitch and I tried as much as possible to carry the same attitude to class. This enabled me to get good grades in the recently completed A Level exams.
In prison, football is a symbol of rehabilitation and to me, football is a form of survival. It helps me to overcome negative thoughts"

EDUCATION
 

Sowedi is one of 8 students enrolled in the APP UoL programme. He is currently his second year of study:
 

"I decided to join the UoL programme because I needed help for myself and other fellow inmates. Most are illiterate. We hardly understood what was happening in our own court proceedings. This resulted in a state of despair. Depression was especially common in the death row section, which is where I was at the beginning. I was always thinking of my case and in the night, I would dream about my execution!

Studying has kept me busy and helped me overcome depression. It has restored my hope and kept me motivated. The future is now bright for us. My perspective on life has changed; I was quite shy before but I’ve now gained enough confidence to speak before a large audience. I can reason with my classmates and other inmates because I now know the law. The UoL programme has also given us a sense of identity."


Ismail, a 2nd year UoL student says: 

"By the time I came to prison I had a diploma in entrepreneurship. When I heard about the possibility of the UoL programme, I embraced it. Before I became a student, I spent a lot of my time reflecting on my past. I was depressed and at times, I contemplated suicide. Studying has relieved me of all that stress and I really enjoy myself. I am now viewing a wonderful future ahead of me. It has also raised my self-esteem. I have gained the respect of other inmates and I see myself representing myself and others in law"


POST TEST CLUB


Mr. Okorine Michael. Officer in Charge, Luzira Condemn Section recalls: 

"I remember one case that stood out for me: A prisoner discovered he was HIV positive. He didn’t know his status before he came to prison. He was obviously devastated! It was not easy for him to accept his status. We introduced him to the Post Test Club. He started gaining from it. The club members supported him with the process of accepting his status and he began taking medication. His health has since improved! The most important thing about the Post Test Club is that they come together and accept their status. They act as a source of encouragement for each other. Some of them have been trained as counselors and this enables them to give each other psychological and emotional support. If one person has a problem, they come together and provide him with the support he needs. The Club is also a source of support to other inmates who are not HIV positive especially the elderly, who not only have special nutritional needs but are also prone to depression"


*Edmund, 46 years old: 

"When I came to prison, I stopped caring about myself. I wanted to commit suicide. But the Post Test Club helped me. They counseled me. When they gave me all this advice about living positively, I took it seriously. I started taking my medication. Look at me now! I am healthy! I am very proud of that and attribute this to the club.  The one thing that club members keep reminding me to do in order to overcome dark feelings about myself is to accept who I am and believe in myself"

 

*Mutyabule, 33 years old has been in post-test club since 2006:

"I was once depressed  when I had just found out that I was HIV positive because at that moment, life was worthless but when joined Post Test Club, I received support and counseling  from my fellow members who were also in the same situation like me"


Current Chairperson for the Post-Test club:

Before I joined Post Test Club in 2010, my BMI was very low because I was not feeding well but after joining Post-Test Club, because of the nutritional support received from APP monthly, my health has improved! In the Post-Test Club, we support each other socially and spiritually. We do this by reminding each other to take care of ourselves and take medicine appropriately.

 

*Names have been changed for confidentiality reasons.