Speaking Up About Mental Health
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Meet DJP Fellow Esther Suubi
June 27, 2021
Esther Suubi is an educator and advocate for those with psychosocial disabilities, especially in her home country of Uganda. Born in a small town near Kampala, she found herself battling depression in her adolescence in a country where those with psychosocial disabilities are often considered incapable and unable to amount to anything in society. Undeterred by Uganda’s views, Suubi’s family provided her with all the care they could, which led her to Triumph Uganda Mental Health Support and Recovery Program (TRIUMPH) in Jinja. TRIUMPH’s mission is to “contribute to the process of enhancing recovery, building resilience and investing in social networks for inclusion of persons with psychosocial disabilities.” At TRIUMPH, Suubi was welcomed with open arms, receiving the support she needed.
Now, as a graduate of Uganda Christian University Mukono with a Bachelor of Arts in mass communication, she has continued pushing to destigmatize psychosocial disabilities with her work at TRIUMPH, where she serves as a self-advocate in peer education and communications, focusing on young women and adolescent girls. When Suubi is not leading sessions and training others, she is writing and proposing policies about mental health and sexual reproductive rights to key stakeholders in Uganda. Most recently, last November she presented a policy paper on access to sexual and reproductive health rights and services for adolescent girls and young women with psychosocial disabilities.
I decided to stand up and fight for my fellow girls and young women by speaking up so that we are heard.Esther Suubi
With a strong interest in journalism, digital media, and social change, Suubi eagerly applied to participate in the Disability Justice Project’s fellowship program to gain one-on-one mentorship focused on enhancing her storytelling skills to benefit her work at TRIUMPH and beyond. Her goal is to build a personal social media following and campaign to raise awareness of the mental health disparities in Uganda and around the world. “I decided to stand up and fight for my fellow girls and young women by speaking up so that we are heard,” she says. “Many girls and young women are out there suffering and can’t speak up, but it won’t keep me silent.” Suubi continues, “As a mental health advocate…I want to see how I can use my social media handles…to be a representative out there.” The fellowship program will give her access to resources and mentorship that she has not had before, and Suubi is hoping she will be able to utilize social media and documentary-style videos to get her message out.
Suubi has deep love and passion for the work she is doing and will take on with the fellowship. With her expanded social media presence and the knowledge she gains from the Disability Justice Project, she is hoping to one day be the founder and director of her own organization, where she can connect with companies and other organizations about psychosocial disabilities and reiterate to them what she already knows to be true: persons with disabilities are able to do the work and enact change when given the chance.
News From the Global Frontlines of Disability Justice
Often dismissed as individual problems, mental health issues are societal issues, says Srijana KC, a psychosocial counselor at the Nepali non-profit KOSHISH. Growing up, KC experienced mental health challenges due to a seizure disorder. Because of discrimination in school and the workplace, she become a street vendor to pay for her medication. At KOSHISH, she facilitates peer support groups across various regions of Nepal. “It is crucial to instill hope in society, recognizing that individuals with psychosocial disabilities can significantly contribute,” she says.
Over the summer the DJP trained Indigenous activists with disabilities from the Pacific on the iPhone camera to create a documentary series on disability and climate change. With VoiceOver, the iPhone provides image descriptions for blind and low-vision filmmakers and offers other accessible features. “If you think about it, it doesn’t make sense for a blind person to use a camera,” says DJP filmmaker Ari Hazelman. “The iPhone gives you more avenues to tell your story in a more profound way as a blind person.”
DJP mentor Kishor Sharma is known for his long-term photography and film projects exploring community and change. Over the last 12 years, he has been documenting the nomadic Raute people in mountainous Nepal. With any project, Sharma aims to actively engage participants, sharing photography and videography techniques. In September, Sharma became a mentor to DJP fellow Chhitup Lama. He was eager to connect “this idea of sharing the visual technique with the storytelling idea and the issue of disability inclusion.”
Recent flooding in Rwanda has left many persons with disabilities without homes and jobs. “Sincerely speaking, I [am] left with nothing,” says Theophile Nzigiyimana, who considers himself lucky to have escaped the flooding. The flooding demonstrates the disproportionate impacts that disasters have on persons with disabilities, which will only intensify as climate change continues.
DJP Fellow Sita Sah interviews Neera Adhikari about starting the Blind Women Association Nepal (BWAN) and the steps BWAN has taken to advance the rights of Nepali women who are blind and low-vision. Women with disabilities, particularly those living in rural areas, “face discrimination from family and society which prevents them from venturing outside their homes,” says Adhikari. “In a household where there are two children, one disabled son and one daughter, societal beliefs often favor sending the son to school while neglecting the daughter’s education.”
Nepal has between 250,000 and one million Deaf people, but most do not attend school. In many schools for Deaf individuals, education ends at 10th grade, and higher education is rarely available and often inadequate. DJP Fellow Bishwamitra Bhitrakoti interviews Satya Devi Wagle from the National Federation of the Deaf Nepal about the strategies, challenges and successes of her work on inclusive education. “Because hearing teachers are not competent in sign language, there is no quality instruction in a resource class in Nepal,” she says. “We are working … to create a Deaf-friendly curriculum.”