Ayotunde was a brilliant 21-year-old Engineering student who had his first psychotic illness in his 2nd year of studies at the University. He was taken away by his parents who were convinced that it was a spiritual attack and what he needed was deliverance from the demons that wanted to ruin his destiny, and not medications by doctors who don’t understand these things. He was taken to a traditional healer’s place where he was chained and fed once a day while he was made to drink different herbal concoctions. He also had scarification marks inflicted all over his body with a razor blade. The marks were purportedly to keep the evil spirits away from him. Several years afterwards, he had not recovered from the psychosis and his family had become tired. Thus, he was left to roam the streets as a homeless mentally ill person.
However, after 15 years on the streets, some of his old classmates rallied around and took him to a Teaching Hospital where he was admitted into the Psychiatric ward and placed on treatment. By the 3rd week of admission, he was calm, looking clean and like his old self, and had started conversing and interacting rationally. His family members could not believe their eyes when they saw him after 3 weeks of treatment. His mother began to shed tears as she felt guilty that they did not realize that he could be treated and recover in a hospital. She lamented that perhaps they may not have wasted the past 15 years of his life, if they had access to the right information and beliefs. They would certainly have done things differently.
World Mental Health Day 2021
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not just the absence of disease or infirmity. However, the mental component of health is often neglected and forgotten. The 10th of October every year is set aside to commemorate the World Mental Health Day, and this year’s theme is ‘Mental Health in an Unequal World.” While the WHO’s message is “Mental Health Care for All: Let’s Make it a Reality”.
The critical message for this year’s celebration is to emphasize that everyone is important and should have access to mental health care – wherever they may live, and no matter their level of education or socio-economic status, religious creed or ethnicity. We live in a world where access to resources – including health care, are unequal. This is true for all aspects of health care, including access to covid-19 vaccines but is even more striking in terms of access to mental health care services. The situation is especially bleak in developing countries such as Nigeria, as well as other parts of Africa and Asia.
The challenges include ignorance about mental health issues, widespread supernatural beliefs about the causes, reduced access to mental health care services due to insufficient human resources, and the non-availability of medications, or the high cost when they are available. Other critical factors include shame, stigma and discrimination associated with mental health conditions in our societies.
It is in the light of the foregoing facts that the Asido Foundation launched the #unashamed campaign in 2020 to promote open conversations around mental health challenges and counter the shame and stigma that so often pushes it underground. It also prevents affected persons and their families from seeking mental health care when it is available. This challenge is what the world mental health day of 2021 is also seeking to address: That everyone should have equitable access to mental health care services. There should be no stumbling block for anyone. Not shame. Not Stigma. Not discrimination or lack of financial means to pay for treatment.
We therefore invite you to play your part and support the #unashamed campaign and promote open conversations wherever you may be: in schools, in your homes, at work as well as the religious places of worship. And to sign the unashamed pledge, please visit www.asidofoundation.com/unashamed and invite others to do so too.
Two Other Things
Covid-19 and Mental Health: Surviving Covid-19 and the global disruptions that has ensued from it has come at a high psychological toll for many of us. It has been an anxiety provoking experience, and it has been traumatic for others who have lost loved ones or have lost means of livelihood amongst others. This further buttress the need to pay attention to our mental health.
Self-Care and Watching Out for One Another: Now more than ever before, we are much more interconnected than we realize, and we need to offer a helping hand to others. And most importantly, we need to prioritize self-care and our emotional wellbeing.
Tribune Article for the column “Your Mental Health & You”
Thursday, 7th October 2021