She is a World Economic Global Shaper for Uganda and currently serves at the Curator for The Kampala Hub. She is also YALI Fellow 2017 and a LéO Africa Institute YELP Fellow.

She is using her personal experience with depression to help others get timely intervention and help.

What I remember about growing up is the anger, cynicism and this deep sadness like an anchor dragging me down all the time. I would be feeling perfectly upbeat one minute and overwhelmed by sadness the next. Sometimes I was too sad or physically unwell to even get out of bed. Many people around me thought I was just lazy and pretending to be sick just to stay in bed. 

As I grew up, the illness matured too until it could not be ignored. My teachers thought I was just being moody and plain difficult. They informed my parents who took me to hospital. When the doctors could not find any physical illness even though I was constantly in pain, they advised us to try counseling. At that point, there was no clear diagnosis given.

After years and years of pain and dealing with addictions, I received a diagnosis in 2015 aged 24.  It is this diagnosis that I believe saved my life. Because now I at least know that I was not just crazy. I was given medication and went for counseling regularly. After a while, I woke up one morning and felt lighter and better than I had in a very long time. I was ecstatic. It is amazing how much our minds want to forget the bad times. I convinced myself that I had outgrown the illness and I could finally do the one thing I always longed to do; live a normal life.

Liz Kakooza with her friends while in the UK

While on a course in the UK, I started experiencing pain again. I went to doctors who assured me there was nothing wrong with me. I kept changing doctors until one said he had finally discovered what the problem was. He said that even though I had been diagnosed with Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), an inflammation of one or more of your joints- earlier in life, it was as a result of my depression. All the pain and sickness I had endured for the past year were simply symptoms of the illness. To say I was distraught is an understatement. Just when I thought I had beaten it and was free, I found that this might be a lifelong struggle.

And it was during this particular depressing time that I started looking for all the small things I could be grateful for. I felt grateful that I, at least knew what was wrong with me knowing that thousands back home were struggling in ignorance and fear. This sobering and humbling realization gave me a big purpose – to empower others in my situation.  And that is how The Tumaini Foundation came to be. We want to address Mental Health challenges on the continent by creating an African approach and solutions to African problems.

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