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Uganda’s BBC documentary actor of “My mad World” Joseph Atukunda Visits Dr Stella Nyanzi in Prison, calls her ‘extraordinary’

His visit to Dr Stella Nyanzi  who is in Luzira prison aimed to advise her accept to be assessed for mental illness and apologize to the president and 1st lady that she was of unsound mind.

By Nangayi Guyson, nangayi.guyson@alleastafrica.com

Kampala,Uganda, Uganda’s BBC documentary actor of “My mad World” Joseph Atukunda who  is internationally recognized for  advocating  for the rights of people leaving with mental illness in the country has visited Dr Stella Nyanzi  in Luzira prison to advise her accept to be assessed for mental illness, apologize to the president and 1st lady that she was of unsound mind.

Mr. Atukunda who is the President and founder of Heartsounds Uganda, Kahigiriza Compassion house and a Peer support worker and recovery trainer at the Butabika Hospital Recovery College (BREC) visited Dr Stella Nyanzi in Uganda’s Luzira security maximum prison on Thursday this week where she is on remand after she was arrested for abusing the president and the first Lady.

Mr. Atukunda said he visited Dr. Nyanzi to see if she really need mental health help

“I asked her to take the easy route I took and allow to be assessed for mental illness, apologize to the president and 1st lady that she was of unsound mind but she said she prefers to be assessed by her own psychiatrists in private practice or psychiatrists brought by government from an independent hospital abroad but not psychiatrists from the state owned Butabika hospital and given the high profile of her case that is being followed by the whole world, I agreed with her.”

“She also explained to me that in creative writing of the high level she does of PHD, what she wrote about the president is acceptable and I felt sorry for her, trapped by her own profession and we are busy encouraging our children to study to the highest level and when they get there, we shall no longer understand them and think they are insulting us.” Akunda said.”

He added that “ she  was jovial, we talked a lot and she laughed a lot and said I was really amusing her and asked me to always look her up when she is released or always come to visit her in prison if she is sentenced.”

Joseph Atukunda also described Dr. Nyanzi as an extraordinary person by quoting from the book known as Fire in the Belly by Sam Keen that states that “In every society, however, there are extraordinary men and women who for a variety of reasons stand outside the social consensus, shatter the norms and challenge the status quo. These iconoclasts, prophets ,rebels, revolutionaries, reformers, shamans, visionaries, mystics, artists, madmen, geniuses, schizophrenics, trouble the waters and disturb the majority but bring new creative energies into a society .As the pathfinder of new ways of being and seeing, they pay a high personal price. They are often painfully self-conscious and lonely and are both stranger and stronger than average folk.

Mr .Joseph Atukunda continued to say that people like Dr. Stella Nyanzi exists in our societies but they are always put down buy their own communities who regard them as insane when they do extraordinary things.

“I assured her she is an extraordinary person and such people usually shatter the norms, challenge the status quo and live outside the social consensus. Such people usually suffer being treated for mental illness, imprisoned like Mandela and some unfortunate ones who operate at very high levels like Jesus, Gandhi, Saddam Hussein, and Qaddafi get killed by the societies they live in.

However, my major aim of visit was to see if we can help her as mental health experts. We should be kind, she may be sick. Remember she undressed in front of cameras before the very students she lectures. Those of us who have undressed before in public, used vulgarities that led some of our relatives and friends to severe connections with us for ever after receiving psychiatric and psychological treatment including peer support like am trying to give to Dr. Nyanzi, we look back with great shame and regret at what we did given that we have grown up children now who were and are affected by these erratic ways we went through under mental illness”

Joseph Atukunda who started experiencing episodes of mental illness in 1989 while in his final year at High school and was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder after going through a lot of harassments and mistreatment by his own people.

Through his NGO Heartsounds Uganda, he has promoted mental illness awareness, and helped many mental service users going through recovery process where he has partnered with Butabika Hospital national referral hospital which referred to the NGO newly discharged mental patients for peer support during the sensitive time when they have just returned to the community.

Joseph Atukunda has strongly done whatever he can to urge that mental Health service users are experts by experience in mental health and can support each other as well as advise the service providers on developing better practices.

He got a Commonwealth professional fellowship and spent three months in the UK from Sept. to Dec 2012 to observe good practices, peer support and other recovery led services in the UK as well as share the Ugandan perspective.

In 2013 he went back to the UK, to attend a Clinical psychologists’ trainers conference organized by Lancaster university and where they planned with Lancaster university to introduce a program in Uganda’s Makerere university to have mental health service users go to the lecture rooms of the clinical psychologist trainees and share their stories and perspective to make the training sessions better and more practical as its done in Lancaster University.

He has also been to South Africa on the same. This year, he also won a highly prestigious world award of a Diploma and Cash prize for outstanding contribution in mental health worldwide from Swiss foundation for World Health. He also acted in a BBC documentary known as “My mad World” aimed at breaking stigma around mental illness in Uganda.

Dr. Nyanzi who was remanded to Luzira Prison is expected back in court on 25 April, this week she resisted Prosecutors’ request for her to undergo a psychiatric examination.

Nyanzi’s lawyers have taken the case to the high court and protested to the authorities about her treatment. One of her lawyers, Nicholas Opiyo, said: “They just want to declare her an idiot so they delegitimize a legitimate form of expression, and send her away to a mental health hospital but we are hopeful as we think people are beginning to understand just how vindictive the whole court process has been to Stella, and how unlawful it has been and how in the process several of her rights have been violated.”

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