Mental health and the problem of out-casting the ‘mad’ in present-day Afrikan communities

Mental health patient chained to a tree -- Photo:

            “To be is to belong, to belong is to be.” – Iroegbu, 1995.

Nicole M. Monteiro reveals in the article; ‘Addressing Mental Illness in Africa: Global Health Challenges and Local Opportunities.’ how 44 per cent of African states lack well-established policies and their corresponding institutions for persons who may be struggling with mental health challenges. This notwithstanding, the stigma attached to the conditions of the mentally ill, especially the schizophrenics crudely named ‘mad’ has significantly contributed to the widespread street presence of those care-needing mentally ill communal members in Afrikan communities.

The communal spirit with which Afrikan communities built their social, cultural and political systems prior to the coming of the Western explorer suffered significant inefficiency with the introduction and subsequent adoption of the westernized notion of governance. So till date, we can still find Afrikan states looking up to the likes of; World Health Organization (WHO) whose MIND program seeks to add some weight to the global mental health war for the realisation of optimum mental health, so as to help remedy the prevailing mental health challenges in Afrika and her respective communities.

But, Afrikan communities can neither look up to international bodies nor depend on local Afrikan political governments to cook up regimes, policies, systems and institutions in tackling the rapidly evolving pandemic of; the increased street presence of persons struggling with schizophrenia, indefinitely. Of the help and support to be provided for by the aforementioned international and local entities, they are of a necessity, however, communal members within Afrikan societies whose loved ones have for reasons unique to their situation fallen victims to schizophrenia must not wait indefinitely for alien help because those remedial measures employed by our pre-colonial Afrikan Traditional Medicine-men in assisting the mental recovery of schizophrenics are retained in the oral traditions and memory storehouse of Afrikan community elders. And they must be consciously drawn upon in healing our communities.

Why have we left our loved ones to wander our streets simply because they have by virtue of certain personal and sometimes communal experiences assumed a state of mind qualitatively different from ours? Why have we neglected the vulnerable to fend for themselves in a mental condition where they are most incapable of doing just that? It is with the utmost restraint that I hereby submit that; our present stance given the mentally challenged within our communities falls short of a pinch of reasoning and a sense of compassion.

In his article: ‘Mental Health Care in African Traditional Medicine and Society: A Philosophical Appraisal.’, Peter Omonzejele (2004) of the University of Benin submits that; ‘In African traditional setting and to date, when there is a mentally ill in the community, he is treated with or without his consent. If the patient is violent or destructive, he is sedated by the Traditional Healer or by family members in order to commence therapy. Therapy is continued until cure is achieved. In some cases, patients may be chained, in order to prevent them from harming themselves or harming others.’

What has, therefore, happened to present-day Afrikan communities with regards to the mentally ill? It goes without saying that the duty entailed in clearing the streets of the mentally ill lies with the respective families of the mentally ill. But it is these same family members who cast them out for not wanting to be associated with the social stigma arising from living with a ‘mad’ person (whatever that means) and being judged for it. We have created stigma to only soothe our fragile egos, for the ones giving off stigma tend to place themselves above the ones receiving the stigma simply because the latter is mentally challenged and the former is not. The need to create that evil divide between ourselves and those who need our help is one that is deeply rooted in a personified inferiority, one which can duly be a mental challenge by itself. But once again, the empty social construct named ‘stigma’ is one that plays on the side of the majority and they tend to carry the vote.

When we are able to defeat the lowly conception of stigma that is staining our clarity in our bid to tackle the mental health wildfire rapidly consuming the quality of our communities and communal relations, we will inch a step closer to realizing our mentally ill communal members for who they truly are; a beautiful people who are simply not well, the reason for why they need our help the most.

Families should, therefore, consult with tribal elders and Traditional Healers to begin bringing their mentally ill relatives home from the streets, because the Afrikan Traditional Cultural parlance wields the needed environment and expertise in bringing healing to the mentally ill given the fact that local governments and international bodies have failed in their respective remedial quests thus far.

Last Edited by:Ismail Akwei Updated: July 12, 2019


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