Makerere University skills Uganda Police Toll free officers to enhance Mental Health and Psychosocial support for Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) Victims

 Makerere University skills Uganda Police Toll free officers to enhance Mental Health and Psychosocial support for Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) Victims

Makerere University researchers with Senior Police Officers after one of the online training Sessions aimed at skilling toll free line officers

Sexual and Gender-Based (SGBV) violence remains an enduring challenge in Uganda. Victims of SGBV often experience mental health problems. However, police officers who are usually the first point of contact for many of these victims have limited resources to address these mental health issues. In recognition of this gap, with funding from the Government of the Republic of Uganda through Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund (Mak-RIF) ttps://, Makerere University researchers have embarked on skilling of toll-free line officers (TFLOs) working in Child and Family Protection Department of the Ugandan Police Force. 

This follows a baseline survey and training under the project entitled ‘Incorporating mental health and psychosocial support in the Ugandan Police Child and Family Protection Department toll-free line to address Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV) complaints’. The training was delivered online (via Zoom) by a team of mental health experts with experience and expertise in Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS). This training was carried out from 24th through 28th August 2020.

According to Dr. Catherine Abbo-the Principal Investigator and training lead, the researchers saw need to organize and deliver a special training in order to improve knowledge and skills of Police Toll Free Officers (P-TFLOs) regarding Mental Health and Psychosocial support for SGBV survivors who call in with complaints.

“Sexual and Gender Based Violence has varying mental health consequences including anxiety, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and yet trained mental health professionals are few in the country. Training P-TFLOs in the basic knowledge and skills in mental health and psychosocial support of survivors of SGBV would go a long way in bridging the gap since P-TFLOs are the first point of contact for Survivors” explained Dr. Abbo. She also noted that   the training was aimed at improving knowledge and skills of Police Toll Free Officers (P-TFLOs) regarding Mental Health and Psychosocial support for SGBV survivors.

College of Health Sciences’ Dr.Catherine Abbo-the Principal Investigator.

In preparation for the training of P-TFLOs, a 4 days’ baseline survey was done in Kampala Metropolitan area in the Police child and family protection department to establish the effects of COVID-19 pandemic on survivors of the sexual and gender based violence, and to establish the understanding of Mental Health and psychosocial support by the police officers.

This was followed with development of tailor-made training manuals to equip service providers in Police Family and Child Protection department with the relevant knowledge and skills to offer MHPSS mental health and psychosocial support to survivors of SGBV.These training materials were developed by adapting existing resources, including Psychological First Aid (PFA).

During the study, the researchers engaged 20 participants from Kampala, Wakiso, Naguru (Police headquarters) in 3 training modules which were very interactive and included role plays and video clips of SGBV and MHPSS to enhance learning. 

Police officers engaging with researchers during the research results dissemination session

The first module was on understanding sexual and gender-based violence in which definitions of key concepts was covered. These concepts include: gender, sex, gender norms, different types of power and how it relates to SGBV.Additionally, the researchers looked at the different forms of violence and the scope of SGBVglobally, regionally and nationally. 

The second module   covered topics such as mental health, mental health and psychosocial support as well as principles of working with survivors of violence.

In one of the Sessions titled mental health of P-TFLOS, participants were trained on how to identify signs and symptoms of stress in themselves and were equipped with basic skills of self-care.

‘As TFLOS, it’s alright to recognize your own stress and take time out to rest and relax, note that you may not be in position to handle all situations, it is ok to acknowledge your weaknesses so that you communicate to the clients well, it is important to take care of yourself first before taking care of others’ advised Dr.Jane Iya – a clinical & counseling psychologist at Makerere University College of Health Sciences, School of Medicine.

Police Toll Free Officers (P-TFLOs) during one of the online training sessions

The final session was facilitated by Dr.Raymond Odokonyero and it centered on communication and basic telephone counseling. Raymond indicated that the session was to equip officers to be able to counsel clients.

Similarly, participants were requested to evaluate the training and provide feedback on areas that they felt needed improvement. 

As a result of their evaluation and feedback, the participants could not hide their excitement as they shared their thoughts on the impact caused by The P-TFLO MHPSS-SGBV training funded by Makerere University Research and Innovation Fund (RIF) to empower Police Officers with knowledge and skills in Mental Health and Psychosocial Support.

Doctor, you opened our eyes more than the people we are going to assist. Am really glad to know about these mental issues Thanks fellow officers for being very active. Let’s go and use the knowledge and skills.”.” commented a participant.

Ms.Natukunda Agatha, a trainee at Wandegeya Police Station also had this to say “Doctor, you know what this is the best training I have had since I joined this unit-the unique thing about it is not only the knowledge gained but the fact that I was able to participate in all sessions from my office here in Wandegeya” My colleagues couldn’t believe that I was participating in a training programme on my phone. 

Similarly, Ms. Marion Kutusa- the head of child and family protection unit wasalso full of praise for the project andbranded it as an answer to police’s SGBV prayer in these words

‘’You know we know we need this kind of training to provide better services to our clients but we have had limited opportunities to empower our officers” I” am so excited that God has answered our prayers and touched the hearts of psychiatrists from Makerere to come to our aid. I am optimistic that this relationship will yield fruits to both the officers and the communities they serve”.

ASP Tushemereirwe Sheila – of the child and family protection unit participating in the dissemination meeting

Much as the project was about MHPSS and SGBV survivors, the researchers namely Dr. Catherine Abbo, Dr. Kenenth Kalani, Dr. Raymond Odokonyero, Ms. Jane Iya, Dr. Emmanuel Bonney, Mr. Collin Ogara revealed that police officers and their families also have MHPSS issues that need urgent attention

In a special way, they commended Uganda Police for their resolute work and, partnership with the Project in addressing cases of SGBV in the country.

‘We had a learning attitude other than an expert attitude in approach, we learnt a lot from working together with the Senior Police officers in achieving the goals of the project’

‘Conducting the research prior to the training enabled us to understand and appreciate what the Police officers in FCPU go through as they manage cases of SGBV, What the Public portrays about them is not what they actually are, these people sacrifice a lot   with the little resources and they are loving people’ part of their appreciation notes  read.

 In same spirit, ASP Francis Ogweng who co-ordinated  the Toll free officers  confirmed   Uganda Police’s tireless effort in preparation for the online training with police officers taking time to learn  how  to use  zoom ( 90% had never used it) .

ASP Francis Ogweng who co-ordinated the Toll free officers speaking to Media at the event

To crown off the training, the Head of Department of Psychiatry, Assoc.Professor Noeline Nakasujja in a special thanked Uganda Police for partnering with Makerere University to promote SGBV and shared certificates to all participants remotely.

The online training brought together Academia, Media, Police Force and the Ministry of Health.Manuscripts are being written for journal publications as a result of the project. This was revealed at the dissemination.

Success of the project

  • An official referral channel has been created that police officers can rely on to refer those who may need further assessment and management. 
  • Members of the team have become a huge resource for police for future trainings and professional advice on issues related to MHPSS and SGBV
  • Through this project, the researchers have been able to identify a partner who has initiated another interventional project which seeks to offer group psychotherapy to wives of police officers with depression

Written by Joseph Odoi, Assistant Communications Officer at Makerere University School of Public Health. 

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