Many of the Kampala’s July 11, 2010 bombings victims may be far from real healing despite some being treated of the physical wounds sustained.
Mr Francis Mugoga, the director of the Uganda 7/11 Survivors’ Network, says survivors of the terror attacks are yet to get proper psychological treatment eight years after the incident.
After the incident, the victims formed an association that would help them in the healing process but did not get support from anywhere else.
Mugoga says: “Many times people have tried to talk to the people in our association but we are still traumatised about being in the media yet nothing is done. I do not think some of us can talk about the incident freely because we did not receive the psychological treatment that would otherwise prepare us to talk.”
He thinks that psychological treatment is not something that was handled wholesomely. A few days after the incident, the Uganda Counselling Association held critical incident stress management counselling sessions aimed at stabilising the victims and showing support.
According to Henry Nsubuga, a counselling psychologist who was the president of the association at the time of the incident, trauma is a very serious psychological problem that can trigger other additional disorders such as alcoholism and suicidal tendencies if not well managed and treated.
He says: “We had a psychological debriefing, a brief psychological intervention which was aimed at making the victims to stabilise emotionally, think properly and to find a secure place that would protect them from further trauma and harm.”
In the next year, the association held a four-day camp for the victims to help them stabilise mentally.
However, since different victims were impacted differently, some people needed more therapy sessions yet others need shorter durations depending on individual ability to cope with traumatic situations.
The association classified some victims as mildly affected and those that they thought had been affected greatly and needed more healing time had longer sessions with therapists who treated them on individual basis.
Kizito Wamala, a clinical psychologist at Centre for Victims of Torture, says there was resource shortage which limited the psychological treatment that the terror victims were given.
He says: “The debriefing was not as intensive and only a few people who were considered to be greatly affected were called for about three or four sessions of counselling. In my experience, however, these are very few sessions and may not be helpful at all if it is psychological trauma. This is not ample time for the people to have healed from such an experience and many of the victims did not receive the therapy they should have got.”
Kizito says we cannot underrate the capacity of human beings to cope and recover naturally because majority of them may have recovered even without enough therapy.
“Generally, about 40 per cent of the people who suffer post traumatic experiences often heal on their own provided they have a good environment and are not exposed to continued trauma. They will recover naturally,” Kizito says.
Some people are able to get healed from trauma without the emotional treatment but the extent to which they suffered matters in their healing or if there are people they are able to speak to.
“Some people, however, may not be able to heal especially if they remain in the same environment; they do not have someone to speak to like a family or friend and maybe lack the general capacity to meet daily needs,” he adds.
Nsubuga says complications that result from the traumatic experiences should not be downplayed in such situations because it has a big impact on the physical wellbeing of a person.
In such cases, going to the same scene, experiencing a similar sound or seeing a similar colour can trigger fast breathing, shivering and some people may suffer lack of sleep, nightmares, hallucinations, poor appetite, sexual problems, chest, spinal or heart problems, and general body weakness.
Importance of the treatment
When people experience trauma, they develop a reaction towards the incident. It could be fear for something they used to do but they do not find joy in doing it anymore. This is the reason why they need help. This shows that these people are not well and they need the treatment to make their life normal again.
Kizito says: “The condition may hinder victims from leading a normal life thereafter, prohibit them from doing so many useful things, not because they cannot but due to fear from what happened. Some may not even go out of the house because they are scared of a reoccurrence of the same incident. The danger is already gone but someone has it in their mind that the danger is still waiting for them.”
The treatment helps such people to see life differently and have a new meaning. Just as it is important to treat physical ailments, so it is with psychological trauma.
After receiving several sessions of the therapy, the terms of termination of a trauma victim from the treatment programme are dependent on a number of factors, according to Nsubuga.
“It could be about the number of times they have been exposed to the experience, other conditions that have developed in relation to the traumatic experience, for example depression, or anxiety while others may not suffer as many of these disorders,” he says.
Generally, the facilities for psychological treatment in Uganda are few and specialised trauma treatment centres are even fewer. Majority of these centres are operated by human rights organisation within certain mandates. So they work on certain groups of people as a response to an incident and not with the general population. Furthermore, few people value the importance of psychological treatment.
“There are NGOs that treat trauma like African Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims in Kampala, Centre for Victims of Torture in northern Uganda, Victims Voice and Makerere University Counselling Centre. These places have skilled therapists. These organisations offer free psychological therapy if the victim lies in their jurisdiction,” says Kizito.
Butabika hospital is the only free place where everyone can seek treatment for psychological trauma. Many people, however, are scared of going there because mental illness is stigmatised in this country but it is like any other body illnesses that are treatable.
Other consultations can be done through the Uganda Counselling Association, Uganda Clinical Psychology Association, Nakasero hospital or by privately hiring a psychologist for basic treatment. The cost ranges between Shs50,000 and Shs100,000 per session depending on the consultant.
Bomb blast survivor narrates his ordeal
“Before I left work at about 5pm, some workmates had said we would go and watch the match at Kyadondo Rugby Club because there were artistes performing that night.
After refreshing, I left my house in Bweyogerere and was at the scene by 7:30pm. When I telephoned the colleagues that had promised to come along, they had changed their minds.
I sat in the front row at the extreme right because I wanted to get a good view of the artistes and the football World Cup final. When the first half of the match ended, there was performance and fireworks to entertain the spectators.
The second half started and at minute 70 of the match, we had the blast but because of the fireworks and the loud performances, I did not figure out what it was.
What caught my attention, however, was that people were making noise and they were not celebrating a goal scored. I then rose up but the couple that sat behind me and my neighbours on my right and left did not move. Maybe they were dead. I really did not check what had happened to them because then I noticed people running around in all directions.
As I ran, I heard another blast but now more loud and pronounced. I did not know what it was but I continued running to find the exit and it felt like it was raining on me. Everyone was confused and all they shouted was bomb bomb! I kept following where the crowd went until I reached Shell Nakawa.
I found some people standing at the filling station and with terrified expressions, they asked why I had blood all over my clothes. I was putting on a white T shirt and blue jeans but they were all stained. This was when I realised that what I felt like rain was blood splashing on me.
When I told people that I was at Lugogo, they told me to remove my clothes to see if I was not wounded. Surprisingly, I had no scratch on my body. I could not put my shirt on again and when I tried to stop taxi or boda boda, they refused to stop. I had to walk the whole journey back to my home in Bweyogerere.
While at home I watched the news on TV stating that there were bomb blasts at Lugogo and many people had died. Although I was able to get home safely, I fear going to crowded places until now. I do not go to clubs because I do not think they are safe enough.
Even when friends cajole me to go, I never concentrate on the reason I am in the place. I keep watching, just in case there is any danger. I think I am safer in lonely quiet places. I also sit in a place where I think I can see everything that happens. I never sought any psychological therapy because I did not think it was important for me.”