Aegis hosts ‘Talk to a Friend’ – a special event on mental health in Rwanda

Posted in Outreach

Through September, the Aegis Trust marked Suicide Prevention Month in Rwanda by engaging the public in a series of social media conversations addressing mental health and suicide prevention. The legacy of the Genocide against the Tutsi remains a big factor in mental health issues in Rwanda, and addressing it has to go hand in hand with the educational work Aegis conducts.

Looking back on the month, on 20th October 2022 Aegis hosted ‘Talk to a Friend’ at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, an event organized in collaboration with the University of Rwanda-College of Education students in the Clinical Psychology department and Youth Champions trained by Aegis in leadership skills for peace building.

Bringing together 110 young people and 30 representatives from public and private sector institutions and partners to raise awareness on mental health and prevention of suicide, the event  generated insightful discussions that gave participants an opportunity to share their thoughts and questions and to increase their knowledge on suicide prevention.

The event featured a panel discussion with specialists and experts in the field including RCT Ruhuka, a professional organization of trauma counselors; Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC), Rwanda’s national health implementation agency; and Mental Health Journal Rwanda, which conducts mental health advocacy.

Speaking on the importance of Aegis joining this campaign, Oscar Twizerimana, a Clinical Psychologist at Aegis Trust said, “Aegis believes that in the journey of building peace and a harmonised society, it is crucial to have a healed people with good mental health because they can also build a healed nation.”

Speaking for the Rwanda Investigation Bureau, Thierry Murangira presented reasons that push people to commit suicide including family problems, depression, incurable diseases, financial problems and many more. Mr Murangira encouraged participants, especially young people, to be conscious about their choices in life and prioritize wellness because every choice has consequences.

“Due to family related problems, I had come to hate myself and I suffered from depression, but I was lucky enough to meet with Aegis Trust counselors who helped me overcome my illness,” commented Faustin Twizerimana, a Youth Champion. “If I had not received any help my mental health would have deteriorated to the point where I would have killed myself.”

Patrick Rutikanga, Director at Gisimba Memorial Center, shed light on ways to overcome mental illness. He also explained how a person who has suffered trauma can suffer from other physical health complications. “The more traumatic experiences a person has, the more a person will face negative health related issues. Suicide is a developmental issue. This is something that happens to people without them having anything to do with it, it can also be transmitted from parents to children. By establishing trust and creating a connection, a traumatized person can be wired to think positively and interact well with others which helps them heal from their trauma.”

Dr Jean Pierre, a Clinical Psychologist, emphasized the importance of consulting specialists in psychology whenever a person feels mentally unwell. “Mental health specialists are sworn to secrecy and should not reveal what their patients tell them. The patient and the specialist work together to uncover the root causes of the patient’s mental problems. However, it is important to note that everyone can help when it comes to treating mental health issues, and anyone can also become a patient with mental illness.”

In her closing remarks, Benita Joelle Habiyambere, in charge of the Youth Unit at Aegis Trust, urged everyone to be a friend who is trustworthy and listens to those who wish to share their stories. “As the title of this event says; ‘Talk to a Friend’. I would like to encourage you all to be ‘that friend,’ a friend who can listen, a friend who can share. People who feel that they are struggling, I strongly encourage you to seek help from your friends and from professionals.”

For pictures from the event, see: https://www.flickr.com/photos/aegistrust/albums/72177720303057165

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All those taking part in the commemoration and video message are members of the Aegis Trust’s team in Rwanda.
A unique 24-hour global vigil marking the end of Genocide Awareness Month – we would love for you to join us.