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Death of Mak law student raises gaps in mental health

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The enormous pressure to succeed at university is driving several students on the brink of exhaustion but the failure to realise dreams is having a devastating effects as in the case of Natasha Byenjeru, a young law student who took her life on June 6 following a mental breakdown over an exam retake.

ERNEST JJINGO spoke to key people about the mental health issue. When Natasha Byenjeru joined Makerere University to study in 2015, she was fresh from high school and dreamt of completing the course within the four-year duration.

However, almost seven years down the road, she was still held up from graduating by a retake in the course unit called Business Associations II.

On June 1, she made her third and last attempt at passing the paper but shortly after coming out, a crestfallen Byenjeru intimated to friends that the exam was harder than expected. Under the university rules, a student is disqualified from a course once he/she fails a course unit for a third time.

“She had performed poorly in coursework after missing out on marks for class presentations via Zoom…so, she knew it was always going to be an uphill task in the final exam,” said a friend who preferred anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Byenjeru feared for the worst and seeing how most of the colleagues she started the course with were already advocates of
the High court, she fell into a deep depression.

“She only said she had nothing to tell the parents if she fails again because that would be the end of her attempt to become a lawyer,” said another friend who is now an advocate.

Sadly, on June 6, Byenjeru ended her life through suicide. She wanted to end the mental anguish caused by the fear of shame to the parents. Several people close to her who preferred anonymity say the signs were obvious that she was depressed.

“Byenjeru is not alone because we have about 30 students who are going to repeat a course unit of International Law II simply because their results got misplaced,” said another student who preferred anonymity.

“Imagine wasting another year because of the negligence of the administration.”

Her death has since raised the issue of mental health at the Makerere University School of Law, with various stakeholders suggesting an overhaul to the studying at the school.

Efforts to reach out to Dr Christopher Mbaziira and Dr Ronald Naluwayiro, the principal and deputy principal of the School of Law respectively, were futile as they didn’t pick their calls. Grace Waiswa Nsaawa, the president of Makerere Law Society (MLS), told The Observer that Byenjeru’s death is a wake-up call to MLS and that they are going to take the issue of mental health seriously among students and the administration.

“Recently, there was a psychologist who was assigned to the school of law and actually she came and spoke to first year students during orientation a few weeks ago. She emphasized that she is always going to be available at law school so that students can interact with her whenever they are having issues of mental health,” he said.

Nsaawa recognizes that very many students at the school of law are suffering from depression and anxiety disorders which he attributes to the pressure that comes with the heavy studying and that it sometimes leads to drug abuse, addictions and alcoholism, which may lead to circumstances such as suicide.

“I have been able to get in touch with some of the close friends of Byenjeru and they think and at- tribute her demise to drug addiction as a result of depression but it cannot yet be confirmed; it just alleged but it is one of the things that have been mentioned by her close friends,” Nsaawa said.

RELAXATION OF RULES

In that regard, Nsaawa says his executive has proposed to have supplementary exams for final year students who fail a course unit like it is done at the Law Development Centre (LDC) instead of having them wait for another year.

“Had Byenjeru got the chance to do a supplementary exam, she may not have gone through the three years of trauma and agony waiting to do just one paper every year.

However, we know this is not a prerogative of the school of law or MLS leadership but for the university’s senate. So, unless the university senate passes that particular order, we may never be able to get supplementary exams. Very many leaders have written letters to the school of law requesting for the reinstatement of supplementary exams but the school of law cannot veto that,” he said.

PAST EXPERIENCE

Ferdinand Tumuhaise, popularly known in law student circles as Son of Loyola, was the best law student at Makerere in 2019. He says that throughout his four years at Law School, he never saw any counsellor at the School of Law.

“There is only one centre at the university [for seeking counsel- ling] but it seems students do not use it effectively. Those at the centre keep waiting for students to go to them yet students need to be checked on constantly. I haven’t found in Ugandan universities anything related to mental health being taken of,” Tumuhaise said.

He added that students are on their own and always stressed with personal issues like finances and too much anxiety but the only thing lecturers care about is pumping them with course works because the rhetoric is that if you do not do it you are going to fail.

“I noticed, for example, that when a student lost a parent, most lecturers did not even care to provide the student with a personal touch. But when I lost my brother 14 days before I did my masters in Laws exams at Harvard Law School, I was in Uganda but like three people from Harvard registrar’s office were contacting me every day to make sure that
I was fine and in place to sit for the coming exams. But in Uganda, students are left on their own,” he said.

He added that Ugandan institutions are doing little about the mental health well-being of their students and this is costing the country a lot and when, for example, a student gets a problem with their exam results, they keep on being tossed from one office to another and in the end students end up repeating exams they never even failed.

Tumuhaise notes that maybe having a liaison officer or a particular office where students can go to, be welcomed with open arms and seek help in case they are facing any personal or study related issues.

“Students reach the examination office and they are abused and chased away. At least let us have an office specifically dedicated to the welfare of the students and put in place personnel who have the qualifications to handle students in terms of their mental health issues.”

SPECIALIST’S VIEW

A survey by The Observer in 2018 revealed that each year, an average of 10 students at Makerere University commit suicide as a result of mental breakdown related to studies.

According Haruna Nyanzi Bujirita, a specialist mental health consultant and director of Metro Health International, there is
a surge in anxiety and stress sweeping across many university campuses.

“This problem is not unique to Uganda or Makerere and this is usually as a result of pressure to achieve high grades academically alongside balancing other social aspects such as relationships, finances, unrealistic social media influences, among others.” He says.

“This in some cases can result in low mood and related hopelessness and can result in suicide behaviour or ideation. Suicide is complex. There’s no one single cause. It can be associated with untreated mood disorders such as clinical depression, schizophrenia and in some cases substance misuse. History of suicide within the family can also be a risk factor, and so are difficult life events considered as traumatic.”

Bujirita says there remain several challenges to get students to admit they need help.

“There is still stigma associated with mental health difficulties and given the fact there is a scarcity of mental health experts and services in Uganda, many people opt to deal with mental health issues alone.”

However, Bujirita says the solution lie creating awareness drives to educate young people about mental illness and warning signs.

“It can also help with address associated stigma. Early interventions are key to better management of mental health disorder. Training lay people to deliver short-term psychological interventions to address shortage of skilled manpower. Unlike common perceptions, asking if someone has thoughts of harming or killing themselves doesn’t increase risk, it only helps in identifying those in need of urgent attention.”



Source – observer.ug

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New Zealand’s Hubbard selected as first transgender Olympian | LGBTQ News

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Laurel Hubbard, 43, will compete in the super-heavyweight women’s event in Tokyo.

Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard will become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics after being selected by New Zealand for the women’s event at the Tokyo Games, a decision set to test the ideal of fair competition in sport.

New Zealand Olympic Committee chief Kereyn Smith said 43-year-old Hubbard – who was assigned male at birth but transitioned to female in 2013 – had met all the qualification criteria for transgender athletes.

“We acknowledge that gender identity in sport is a highly sensitive and complex issue requiring a balance between human rights and fairness on the field of play,” Smith said in a statement.

Hubbard will compete in the super-heavyweight 87-kg category after showing testosterone levels below the threshold required by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The 43-year-old had competed in men’s weightlifting competitions before transitioning.

“I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders,” Hubbard, an intensely private person who rarely speaks to the media, said in a statement issued by the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) on Monday.

Hubbard has been eligible to compete at Olympics since 2015, when the IOC issued guidelines allowing any transgender athlete to compete as a woman provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months before their first competition.

Some scientists have said the guidelines do little to mitigate the biological advantages of people who have gone through puberty as males, including bone and muscle density.

Advocates for transgender inclusion argue the process of transition decreases that advantage considerably and that physical differences between athletes mean there is never a truly level playing field.

Save Women’s Sport Australasia, an advocacy group for women athletes, criticised Hubbard’s selection.

“It is flawed policy from the IOC that has allowed the selection of a 43-year-old biological male who identifies as a woman to compete in the female category,” the group said in a statement.

Weightlifting has been at the centre of the debate about the fairness of transgender athletes competing against women, and Hubbard’s presence in Tokyo could prove divisive.

Her gold medal wins at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa, where she topped the podium ahead of Samoa’s Commonwealth Games champion Feagaiga Stowers, triggered outrage in the host nation.

Samoa’s weightlifting boss said Hubbard’s selection for Tokyo would be like letting athletes “dope” and feared it could cost the small Pacific nation a medal.

Belgian weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen said last month allowing Hubbard to compete at Tokyo was unfair for women and “like a bad joke”.

Australia’s weightlifting federation sought to block Hubbard from competing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast but organisers rejected the move.

Hubbard was forced to withdraw after injuring herself during competition, and thought her career was over.

“When I broke my arm at the Commonwealth Games three years ago, I was advised that my sporting career had likely reached its end,” Hubbard said on Monday, thanking New Zealanders.

“But your support, your encouragement, and your aroha (love) carried me through the darkness.”

Olympic Weightlifting New Zealand President Richie Patterson said Hubbard had worked hard to come back from the potentially career-ending injury.

“Laurel has shown grit and perseverance in her return from a significant injury and overcoming the challenges in building back confidence on the competition platform,” he said.

Hubbard is currently ranked 16th in the world in the super heavyweight category.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Apple Daily could shut ‘in days’ after Hong Kong asset freeze | Freedom of the Press News

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Company adviser says action under security law means it cannot access some $50 million in funds to pay staff and vendors.

Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily will be forced to shut “in a matter of days” after authorities used the national security law imposed by China to freeze the company’s assets as it arrested the paper’s editor and four other directors, an adviser to jailed tycoon Jimmy Lai told Reuters on Monday.

Mark Simon, speaking by phone from the United States, said the company was no longer able to access its funds and would be holding a board meeting on Monday to discuss how to move forward.

“We thought we’d be able to make it to the end of the month,” Simon told the news agency. “It’s just getting harder and harder. It’s essentially a matter of days.”

His comments signal closure is imminent even after Apple Daily said on Sunday the freezing of its assets had left the newspaper with cash for “a few weeks” for normal operations.”

The news comes two days after editor Ryan Law, 47, and chief executive Cheung Kim-hung, 59, were denied bail after being charged under the security law with collusion with foreign forces.

Apple Daily’s editor-in-chief Ryan Law arrives back at the detention centre after he was remanded in custody on Saturday [Lam Yik/Reuters]

Three other senior executives were also arrested last Thursday when 500 police officers raided the newspaper’s offices in a case that has drawn condemnation from Western nations, human rights groups and the chief United Nations spokesperson for human rights.

The three have been released on bail.

Simon told Reuters it had become impossible to conduct banking operations.

“Vendors tried to put money into our accounts and were rejected. We can’t bank. Some vendors tried to do that as a favour. We just wanted to find out and it was rejected,” he said.

Speaking earlier to US news channel CNN, Simon said the company had about $50 million available, but was unable to access the funds.

The publisher has come under increasing pressure since its owner Jimmy Lai was arrested under the national security law last August, which marked the first time the company’s headquarters was raided. Lai, 73, is now jailed and facing trial under the national security law. In May, the authorities also froze some assets belonging to the longtime critic of Beijing has also had some of his assets frozen.

Three companies related to Apple Daily are also being prosecuted for collusion with a foreign country and authorities have frozen HK$18 million ($2.3 million) of their assets.

China imposed the national security law on Hong Kong last June saying it was necessary to restore “stability” to a territory that had been rocked by mass protests in 2019, some of which turned violent.

The broadly-worded law criminalises acts such as subversion, sedition, collusion with foreign forces and secession with possible life imprisonment, but critics have said it is being used to suppress legitimate political debate with dozens of pro-democracy politicians and activists among the more than 100 arrested since it was brought into force.





Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Birmingham Classic: Ons Jabeur beats Daria Kasatkina to win first title

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Tunisian second seed Ons Jabeur defeated Russia’s Daria Kasatkina in straight sets to win her first singles title at the Birmingham Classic.

World number 24 Jabeur triumphed 7-5 6-4 against the fourth seed to become the first Arab woman to win a WTA title.

In Berlin, Russian qualifier Liudmila Samsonova stunned Swiss fifth seed Belinda Bencic to win her first title.

The 22-year-old world number 106 battled back from a set down to win 1-6 6-1 6-3 in her first final.

Victories for Jabeur and Samsonova mean there have now been 10 first-time singles winners on the women’s Tour this year.

Jabeur broke Kasatkina’s serve three times to prevail in the first set, before successive breaks at the start of the second put the 26-year-old in control at 4-0.

Two-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist Kasatkina recovered to 4-3, but Jabeur held on to win a singles final at the third attempt.

It was a breakthrough week for Samsonova in Germany, during which she also defeated seventh seed Victoria Azarenka of Belaurus in the semi-final.

World number 12 Bencic won the first five games as she dominated the opening set, but Samsonova matched that feat in the second before completing her comeback with breaks in the first and ninth games in the deciding set.



Source – www.bbc.co.uk

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