2016 was a year of “lessons learned”. And the lessons were many. Mental health has always been a fascination of mine and in my quest for knowledge, I learned so much that I needed to press the brakes and reflect. Below are a few things that came to mind.
- In my eight months as Media Officer of Gede Foundation, I have learned a lot. There have been a lot of challenges and even more lessons. No disrespect to mental health professionals who obviously know more than I do, but I have learned a little in the past eight months that I find myself diagnosing people - in my head. I have to consciously stop myself from diagnosing people’s mental illnesses. Most importantly because I am unqualified and I suppose even more important, I AM NOT A DOCTOR.
- Going into the job, I was worried. I thought mentally challenged people were definitely violent (I blame TV, especially American Horror Story - Asylum). I have probably crossed paths with mentally challenged persons before but not the way I did working in the field with Gede Foundation. My first encounter, which most of our regular readers know about, is the lady that was chained to a pole in a church - for over a year. Even after I learned her condition, I was scared. My main concern was MY OWN SAFETY. My fear was that a lady chained to a pole would somehow break free and attack me. Is that even rational? Thinking back, I am quite ashamed. It was HER SAFETY that should have concerned me more. She has been unchained now and is back with her family. To me, that is one person reached, one person helped, one voice that can speak. Note to self: It is not about you.
- There have been others of course. Others riddled with so much pain, disdain and heartache in their lives yet they still soldier on. One girl that has seizures so bad but she doesn’t let that restrict her actions. HOPE AND COURAGE
- “So what?” One might ask. Well, people suffer. More than I have ever been exposed to. There is an 8 year old boy who has no less than 5 seizures in a day. He is bruised and battered and ridiculed because of his condition. Also because of his condition, he cannot go to school. His family is so poor they can’t afford his medication. The young boy is doing better now. We did not do much for him but the little we did was enough for the father to understand that his son’s condition is medical and there are people willing to HELP.
- Then there is a young bubbly lady who is bipolar (I did not diagnose her). First time I met her, she seemed OK. She was bubbly, happy and saw no reason why she had to be at the mental health camp. I dug deeper and discovered she was in a manic phase and when this happens, she loses all her inhibitions. This includes sexual inhibitions. For this reason, many men take advantage of her. It was recommended that she take an HIV test as well as a pregnancy test as it had been a few months and she hadn’t had her period. Some members of her community look down on her because of the aforementioned encounters with men. With a little more enlightenment, perhaps they will show a little COMPASSION.
- Then there was a man, just 31, shouting and screaming at something/someone we could not see. His reality is apparently as real to him as mine is to me. There are a lot of productive things he could be doing with his life but he can’t because he had (at that time) had no access to medication. Not everyone can understand mental illnesses, but that does not make them any less real. Furthermore, not everyone understands malaria but because its a physical illness, it is accepted.
- Last but definitely not the least is the substance abuse. I learned that there is a place in Mararaba, Nassarawa State, called the ‘jungle’. This is where all kinds of illegal drugs can be found. Even more interesting, the ‘jungle’ has a chairman. When I first heard this story of the ‘jungle’ I broke into fits of laughter. For that reaction, I am ashamed. It saddens me that it is so easy to get illegal drugs.
It is my hope that 2017 leads us closer to “No Shame” and “Zero Stigma” for those who have mental illnesses. HAPPY 2017!