By Zunzika Thole-Okpo
After two successful Mental Health Camps, nothing much could faze us right? Wrong. Gede Foundation held its second round of MHCs on the 19th of September in Mararaba Gurku. Lucky for the team, the Chief opened up his palace once more.
Just after we left the office, it started to rain; a bit disconcerting because we thought people may not show up for the MHC. When we got to the palace, it had stopped raining and fortunately, there were people already there, patiently waiting. There were the usual cases of seizure disorders, substance abuse disorders and mood disorders. There were also unusual cases. A young boy, not more than 14, developed a brain tumour just as he was about to go to senior secondary school. The boy’s father is aware that his son is mentally sound yet he still brought him to the camp. The reason for this was inspiring. The man, a pastor, needed his son to receive some counselling. The young boy faces a lot of discrimination, disdain and stigma because of how he is now. He used to go to school and did not need any help with anything physical. Last year, he underwent an operation to remove the tumour. The operation was successful. However, his motor skills have been impaired and he constantly needs help. As the father was speaking, the young boy was cowering and trying to cover his mouth. One could tell that he was uncomfortable. 14 is an impressionable age. While kids his age are out exploring and pretending to be adults, he sits in his chair and can only move with assistance. HIs father expressed gratitude at the counselling his son received. He thanked the foundation profusely and said he would welcome any further help that the Foundation would like to render. His father said he now has hope. For those that aren’t aware, ‘Gede' loosely translates to ‘hope’ in Fulani language.
As the pastor was speaking, we heard noises coming from the doctors room (a place that was set aside for the doctor to conduct consultations). The pastor excused himself and went to see what the problem was. Inside was a young man that the pastor prays for. The young man came with his parents and his brother all the way from Lafia, Nassarawa. The young man was screaming at the top of his lungs. He was shouting at someone/something we could neither see nor hear. This was someone I had had a conversation with earlier in the day. Here he was now, ranting and pointing to the sky and shouting at a person we could not see. As is expected (unfortunately), people gathered to stare, others stepped away as they were scared. This was a scene similar to the ones we see on TV where we see someone being put in a straitjacket. The truth is the young man was not violent, he was just shouting. Meanwhile, his brother was just swaying from side to side, softly mumbling. The brother is schizophrenic while he has substance abuse induced psychosis - schizophrenia like. For over 3 years he has had wandering tendencies, increased aggression, auditory and visual hallucinations.
The scene described above seemed like something from a movie. One thing to understand is people are afraid of what they do not understand. We do not know what triggered the shouting. We did not know how to calm him down, but we have been conditioned to stare from afar and pass judgment. Through this project, this gap may become smaller and we can learn to be more tolerant of those battling with illnesses that are not physical.