At Medical Teams, we care for the whole person — spiritually, socially, emotionally, and physically.  As a part of that commitment, we believe strongly in mental health care! Just take it from Dr. Salim, one of our psychiatrists in Uganda. He knows the power of mental health care. His patient, Obedi, is a perfect example of how the right kind of care can change lives.

When Salim was a young, he never dreamed he’d one day have a “Dr.” in front of his name. After losing both his parents at 5 years old, his only dream was to find a way to not feel so alone in the world.

“I was a street child,” Salim says. “Because of the loss of mom and dad at a tender age, I was like, there was no meaningful life.”

Consequently, Salim started spending time with a troubling friend group, using drugs, and skipping school. One day, his youth mentor pulled Salim aside and said, “Don’t you think you’re going to break down with the substances you’re using? We’re taking you back to school. You are very bright.” It was a wake-up call.

When Salim looks back, he sees it as the moment that changed everything. After the inspiration from his mentor, he wanted to help other people who endured grief and loss like him. He wanted to become a psychiatrist.

“They showed me a clear picture that you can support other people. So, that’s when I chose to go and do that course,” Salim says.

Today, he’s earned the title of “Doctor.” However, with a wide smile and open arms, he says, “You can just call me Salim.” Behind his humility, his genius and his kindness shine. It’s the perfect combination for a psychiatrist working in a refugee settlement.

Dr. Salim is like family

Dr. Salim, a Ugandan psychiatrist, smiles with Obedi's family.
Dr. Salim (far right) fits right into Obedi’s (in white) family.

They might be doctor and patient, but it’s easy to see that Dr. Salim and Obedi are also good friends. In fact, Obedi’s children greet Dr. Salim like a favorite uncle, running to meet him with smiles and laughter. Dr. Salim is now a psychiatrist who works for Medical Teams in Uganda. His friendship with Obedi is the result of patient and consistent care. He’s treated Obedi for bipolar disorder for 2 years. When he comes to Obedi’s house, it’s as if Dr. Salim is family.

“He comes to the clinic to check on us now,” Dr. Salim says of Obedi with a laugh. “He comes by and says, ‘Are you fine? Are you fine?’ to our staff!”

Even 2 years ago, a moment like that wouldn’t have been possible for Obedi. Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, he left in 2012 with his family and made it to the Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement in Uganda. When Obedi arrived at the settlement, he was struggling with his mental health. Because he was volatile and unstable, Obedi was unable to support his family or be present as a father for his children.

Finally, Obedi was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. To live with this condition, he needs continual support and medication through a psychiatrist. But he didn’t have access to reliable care for years.

Obedi’s long road to care

Meeting Dr. Salim was a turning point for Obedi. About 2 years ago, Dr. Salim began practicing with Medical Teams and treating Obedi and other patients like him. Dr. Salim provides the consistent, compassionate care that Obedi needs to stay healthy. Accordingly, to manage his condition, Obedi receives pills that he takes every day and a monthly injection, and talks regularly with Dr. Salim.

“Before Medical Teams, I was bad luck. I could beat people, have sleepless nights. After Medical Teams came in, now I’m on drugs, and the drugs are helping. Now, I am fine. I am supporting my family,” Obedi says.

For Obedi, this treatment is life changing. His mental health deteriorates rapidly without medication. But with medication and counseling, he can live a happy and full life. You can see it in the big, bright smile on his face and the loving affection he and his family share. Obedi also has an incredible support system. His wife goes to almost every appointment with him.

“Thank you to Dr. Salim for the work he has done, for always treating me. Thank you to Medical Teams as well,” Obedi says.

Dr. Salim’s practice in Rwamwanja

As a psychiatrist, Dr. Salim often visits patients in their homes.

As a psychiatrist, Dr. Salim regularly sees patients whose mental health has suffered after experiencing a life-threatening event. Some, like Obedi, have mental health conditions that worsen without continuous care. Others are reeling from tragic losses or the severe stress of leaving behind their homes.

Dr. Salim describes his patients’ sadly common experiences, saying, “Whole families get [murdered]. The memories always come back. Seeing the blood of their families. Others suffer rape. They can’t erase it from their minds. PTSD is very common. They lose self-esteem. They can’t sleep. They can’t stop thinking about it.”

Additionally, Dr. Salim sees many mothers who have been affected by the loss of their children. He describes how mothers sometimes react. “There are many mothers who have lost their children. The mother sometimes walks around the clinic in circles, saying, ‘my baby, my baby, my baby.’ Hallucinating. They’ll see another baby and say it’s theirs. It affects their mental well-being.”

He pauses, reflecting, then says,

“But at least we are trying to do something, and God is trying to do something, too.”

Dr. Salim and Obedi combat discrimination and stigma

At his practice in the settlement, Dr. Salim’s daily schedule as a psychiatrist is a rotation of in-clinic days, where patients come to him, and home visits. His smiling, calm presence is a welcome sight to his patients. Consequently, many of them are like Obedi and see Dr. Salim as a family friend. He works hard to make sure people who need help know to come to him.

Before Medical Teams came to Rwamwanja settlement, Dr. Salim says that over 100 people died by suicide in 2020 because they couldn’t get care. He speaks quietly, perhaps imagining the despair and depression of his current patients if not for the staff and volunteer village health team workers going out into the community.

“They weren’t cared for or suffered alone without help,” he says, of the people he now serves. “We’re trying to reach out to those people with the village health teams and bring people together. Those who are success stories come and visit families too.”

Obedi has become an advocate for mental health because he knows personally what a difference it can make. In many cultures, mental health care can be a taboo topic. Before getting treatment, Obedi explains that he was discriminated against for having bipolar disorder. But now he shares his story with pride and vulnerability, working to combat the stigma that exists in the community.

Dr. Salim and Obedi recognize that there’s a long way to go. But they both are passionate about the difference mental health care can make because they know how much it can help people.

A psychiatrist on the power of care

Dr. Salim, a Ugandan psychiatrist, takes notes in his binder about patients.
Following a busy day in clinic, Dr. Salim catches up on notes in his office.

Obedi explains that the mental health care he’s gotten from Dr. Salim has given him his life back. His abundant joy in his family and the warmth that radiates from him every time he smiles are proof. Life is still hard, and Obedi and his wife struggle to make ends meet. But they have proven to be resilient. In reality, mental health care didn’t just help Obedi…it helped his entire family.

Every day at work, Dr. Salim hears heartbreaking stories of tragedy and loss. He confesses that sometimes it’s hard for him when people describe losing their parents because he remembers the loss of his own. Rather than dwelling in his sadness, he returns to something that’s motivated him since he started at Medical Teams: our core values.

“It’s the same thing from when I first applied to Medical Teams. It’s the core values,” he says. “As a human, I sit back and think, This is too much. Sometimes you see one patient and you think, Really, life is not easy. As a person, you feel it inside. At the same time, I think, I have to be courageous. The two core values that give me the go ahead are tenacious and courageous.”

“I have written them for my patients on the wall. I remind them, you are not alone. We have to move together.”

Moving forward with mental health

A family smiles together in their home.
Because of Dr. Salim’s care, Obedi is able to be present for his family.

Dr. Salim shares that Obedi’s story is one that gives him hope when he’s discouraged. “When I look at him, I feel so happy,” Dr. Salim says. “I believe God is there. Because this is a person who people were afraid of. Now, we are working with him and serving with him.”

“I’m so lucky to join and serve with Medical Teams.” Dr. Salim smiles. “If you sit me down and say, ‘What have you achieved?’ I’ll say that at Medical Teams, I got to know who God is.”

Similarly, Obedi asks that people continue to support Medical Teams and mental health workers because the need in the refugee settlement is great. For others with mental health conditions like him, treatment can mean being well enough to do basic day-to-day tasks like collecting water and food. However, Dr. Salim is the only psychiatrist in the settlement. At this time, there are over 1,000 people receiving mental health services although there are many more who need help.

Remembering our common humanity

Emphatically, Dr. Salim says, “They are people like us. They need care. Today it’s him, but tomorrow it could be you. Because there are just stressors that break us down. When you lack support, you break down. We need to support the mental health care system at large, not just here. They can heal, as long as we combine hands and support them.”

All in all, Dr. Salim certainly knows the power of mental health care. As a result of mental health care, he’s seen his patients slowly heal and find joy again after devastating losses. Similarly, it’s the reason someone like Obedi can be a loving father to his children and doting husband to his wife.

Gratefully, Dr. Salim says, “Thank you so much to whoever is supporting mental health. Strong mind, strong body.”

When you support Medical Teams, you provide a psychiatrist like Dr. Salim with the tools to care for his patients. Your generosity can help someone like Obedi, who needed loving, long-term care to regain a sense of mental well-being.

Consider joining The Pulse, our monthly giving program, and open your heart for providers like Dr. Salim and patients like Obedi!

Portions of this post have been updated. It originally posted in May 2023.

photo of Lauren Hobson


Lauren Hobson
Copywriter & Editor