Written by Zunzika Thole-Okpo
We walked in and she was just sitting there, covered in her wrapper from head to toe. Only a few stray braids graced her face. Clearly we had woken her. She was withdrawn but returned our greetings. I wondered why she did not leave as we sat down to conduct our interview with the pastor.
Since this was my first field trip with Gede, I tried to pay attention to what the pastor was saying and not to the young lady on the floor. This was one of the first Key Informant Interviews (KII). It was not until the pastor started talking about mentally ill people that he was praying for that I realised what was happening. The young lady, Faith*, had been in church for a long time. I turned to have a better look and discovered she was chained to a pole. Apparently, she had been chained to that pole for over a year.
It all started in 2011. Faith was a fashion designer and she was doing well for herself and her family. Her husband also had a good job. One afternoon, he came back from work to find his wife frantic. She claimed someone had come into her room through a window. She was inconsolable. They looked everywhere and did not find anything but she was adamant. Someone had come into her room through a window. Even after searching the whole house, she was not convinced. The husband decided to humour her and told her the person had been sent out and she calmed down. After this first episode, she had another where she said there were things all over her body. She kept scratching, screaming and writhing in pain. She said the things were going into her body. She attempted to cut them out but there was nothing to cut out.
This episode prompted Faith’s husband to take her to her parents for help. When they got to the village, Faith had another episode. Since her husband had just dropped her off and left, they called him back to take her to the hospital. When they got there, they were told that Faith had malaria, possibly cerebral malaria and typhoid. Wishing for it all to go away, they started treating malaria and typhoid. However, Faith was not getting any better. She was wandering around, talking to people that were not there, hearing things that weren't there. Furthermore, she was terrified. Sometimes she refused to go to bed because there was ‘something’ on the bed. As was their natural proclivity, the family decided to go to a pastor for healing.
After many months of prayers and no change, Faith’s husband decided to take her to see a psychiatrist. She was on treatment for six months and in those months, everything was OK. She was back to her normal self, doing the things she used to do before. As Faith was now better, the couple decided to discontinue with the medication, Faith got pregnant and the family was happy once more. Right after her baby was born, the episodes started again. This time, she was wandering off and would not be seen for days on end. The husband, naturally, was very worried and once more, decided to take her back to the church, where she has been for one year now.
For the year that Faith has been chained to the pole she is only let loose to go to the bathroom. She eats and she sleeps there. The pastor described that sometimes, she speaks in an unearthly language known only to her. To the pastor and other congregants, that is the demon talking, not Faith. The only medical intervention Faith has received in the one year she has been chained, came from the Mental Health Camp organised by Gede Foundation, a BasicNeeds Franchisee. The MHC, held on the 30th of July 2016 at Mpape Primary Healthcare Centre, was the second one that Gede has held.
Faith is now on medication and according to her husband, she is becoming more and more herself. Having gone through what she has, it comes as no surprise that she is withdrawn and reserved. Imagine living in so much fear that it appears everyone is out to get you. That is what she has been living with for the past 5 years. However, she is now on the road to recovery. She has to follow her medication strictly.
Faith’s story is only one of many which reflect the significant progress Gede has made in delivering community based mental health services. Many users and carers have have stepped forward, especially after the formation of Self Help Groups. The possibility of a support system and a voice is something that gives the users and carers hope for the future.
*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the identity of the person.