The recent World Mental Health Report 2022 published by the World Health Organization (WHO) highlights low levels of mental health literacy as one of the main barriers undermining mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) worldwide. The media, both traditional and new, play a key role in removing these obstacles by educating society, advocating and raising awareness. Ironically, media professionals themselves often lack adequate knowledge and understanding of mental health.
As part of its holistic peacebuilding program focusing on MHPSS to promote social healing and reconciliation in Rwanda, Interpeace organized a training for journalists. The aim was to increase their knowledge, skills and understanding of MHPSS.
The two-day training was held in August 2023 and provided essential tools and skills to 26 participants from various local media, ensuring their ability to produce professional MHPSS and peacebuilding content that adheres to ethical standards.
Involving the media in the peacebuilding and MHPSS processes is most important in Rwanda, where the population continues to struggle with mental health disorders stemming from the genocide committed against the Tutsi nearly three decades ago.
The training included theory, case studies and practical exercises to deepen participants’ understanding of mental health and the ethical considerations that must guide their reporting. Participants praised the training for strengthening their capacity and encouraging their willingness to report on mental health.
The production of detailed, well-researched programs and reports will promote advocacy among various stakeholders, including government officials, experts and donors, with the aim of advancing and influencing mental health policies and practices in the country.
Oswald Mutuyeyezu, one of the most influential radio journalists, expressed his desire for regular workshops. “We learned a lot from this workshop. We understood the latest diagnosed mental health disorders/illnesses in Rwanda and the techniques and approaches needed to report them. Although it may be too demanding to hold this training every month, I suggest it be organized at least once a quarter to refresh our minds and knowledge,” Mutuyeyezu suggested.
Scovia Mutesi, one of the most influential independent journalists, social media influencer and owner of the online newspaper “Mama Urwagasabo” and YouTube channel, proposed to extend the training to younger journalists to ensure the sustainability of the initiative.
Participants pledged to produce more content related to MHPSS and peacebuilding to educate communities and raise awareness. This will contribute to increasing the utilization of mental health services in the country, which currently stands at 5.3%. It will help tackle the deep-seated stigma and discrimination often faced by people living with mental health problems, which prevents demand for mental health care.
Interpeace organized the training workshop in partnership with the Rwanda Media Commission (RMC), the regulatory body for the media sector in Rwanda, responsible for building its capacity. Emmanuel Mugisha, RMC Executive Secretary, commended the partnership with Interpeace for organizing this training. He further encouraged the trained journalists to use the acquired skills to boost their professionalism and fulfill their role as the fourth estate.
“We believe in your capacity and power to initiate change. We therefore expect an increase in the number of stories, documentaries and programs that educate Rwandans about mental health and advocate for a strong and decentralized mental health system. This training lays the foundation for a strong and fruitful partnership between Interpeace and the media sector in promoting MHPSS and building peace in Rwanda,” said Mugisha.