He kept staring at me. No matter where I looked or what I did, he would not stop staring. I tried smiling but he kept a straight face and I was uncomfortable. And then he threw his head back and laughed. I’ll admit that I was a bit taken aback. Why was he laughing at me? Was it my hair? Was my shirt on backwards? Since I was frightened at this moment, I moved close to one of my colleagues at the Mental Health Camp. This set the tone for the MHC and I kept my distance for a while.
However, as time went on, I remembered that he was less likely to get violent. I had seen similar cases at Gede’s first MHC. The only thing the man was doing was laughing. True, it made me uncomfortable but laughter doesn’t hurt. And so I laughed with him.
The second Mental Health Camp which was held in Mpape was quite different from the one in Mararaba. We held this one at a Primary Health Care (PHC) Centre and as there was a lot of awareness created, a lot more people showed up than was expected. There were enrolments carried out right at the MHC as well as individuals that simply came to volunteer their services for free.
We had a young man that has no less than five seizures a day. He couldn’t have been more than 8 years old. Another young lady presented with paranoia and delusions, although not completely unfounded. She had been previously shackled to a pole in a church and let loose on the day of the MHC. While at the MHC, she said she did not want to be in bondage anymore. She went on to say that everyone deserves freedom. She kept asking if she was a criminal and asked if the pastor was the police to chain her that way. After the session with the doctor, the young lady refused to go back to the church. She demanded to be left alone at the hospital instead of going back to being shackled. This brought on many thoughts. Was being shackled helping at all? True, she may not run off but was this helping her mental health?
Another lady, a new mother, her baby barely a week old, ran away because she did not want to be associated with mental illnesses.
It is clear that stigma plays a big role in whether or not people living with mental illnesses and their families come out for medical intervention. There are many lessons learned from the two mental health camps and hopefully people will begin to understand that having something wrong with your mind or being epileptic is nothing to be ashamed of.
The next round of MHC's will be held in Mpape and Mararaba at the end of August.