In March this year, the government through President Yoweri Museveni ordered the closure of bars, cinemas, live concerts, and all social gatherings in a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Whereas most of the other activities and sectors that were closed off to contain the virus have been partially or fully reopened, live events and social gatherings remain closed despite calls from bar owners and event organizers to have them re-opened.
Despite the government handing out relief to some players in the entertainment industry, it is estimated that 60% of the people in the sector are likely to lose their jobs even when the industry finally re-opens.
Without bars, cinemas, and concerts, it’s doubtless that Uganda will lose a very big portion of its economy.
The grand scheme of things though, is that this industry is worth much, much more than the economy. Social gatherings, what I would call the ‘nightlife’ and all it entails have a very huge impact on our mental health.
“At first the lockdown was exciting, for the first two weeks it felt like leaving from my busy schedule. But after the two weeks, I got so depressed. I could spend a day without talking to anyone since I was staying alone. Some times I would break down and cry for no reason,” Racheal Kulanyi, an administrator at Pivot Media, and lover of the nightlife narrated to Nile Post.
Since the nightlife was taken away, Kulanyi says that she has noticed an effect on her own mental health.
“I went into the worst depression. I am a loner who feeds from being around people once in a while so not being able to see people really affected me,” Kulanyi adds.
Derrick Kiiza Mbugga, the executive director at Mental Health Uganda says that there has been contrasting reporting globally about the relationship between music, art, drama, and mental health.
Mbugga adds, “The clearance is that they help to support mental health because they relax both the brain emotionally, but they also relax the body and they tend to divert people’s attention from more pressing needs and people are able to relax.”
Mbugga says that it is not just good for those that attend, but several artists are also depressed at such a time when their work remains closed. Mbugga said that although he cannot agree that the recent spike in mental health cases in Uganda is directly related to the closure of social gatherings but he is sure that the ongoing confinement has a big impact on them.
For Stanley Odong who is also known as MC Lil Ollo, a TV presenter and organizer of the Ollo Experience event, his event is a youth empowerment platform and this is done through empowering their mental health and lifestyle.
“We do have a mental health program under the Ollo Experience. It is basically among young people and we teach them how to overcome stress and mental health issues. We always bring in experts,” Ollo said.
Ollo agrees that his own mental health has been affected by not being able to organize his events.
The situation is even dire for people in marginalized groups. To them, having somewhere to express their true selves and meet people they relate to can feel like a lifeline.
“A study by the University College in London and Sussex University shows that there is an ongoing mental health crisis among the LGBTQ+ community and depression is at an all-time high as most are confined with bigoted relatives,” Florence Kyohangirwe (Kakatshozi), an editor/founder at EA Scene told this website.
Historically, people from marginalized communities such the queer, albinos and others, rally on the nightlife for community building. Its absence has had a very huge impact on them.
Creatives and writers like myself have also found it hard to think creatively, having to handle work and head back home without something to break the pattern has left many anxious and constantly experiencing writer’s block.
If there is anything to learn from this period, then that is the fact that nightlife, entertainment, and all that it entails is not just an excuse to drink. It is indeed an essential part of our well-being and the government should not ignore it.