Inside the anguished mind of mental health sufferer

LITEBOHO MOLEKO

MASERU – Cooped up in a bench humming in a low tone voice with his head moving back and forth seems like his daily routine. It is clear that Tumelo* is living in his own world which appears to be a happy, yet lonely place. When one hears the name Mohlomi Hospital their thoughts visualise mentally unstable old people’s little heaven on their road to recovery. However, mental illness has been a challenge in this country for years especially on youngsters many of whom are exposed to drugs, peer pressure, expensive lifestyles, relationships, early divorce, economy, academic stress, unemployment.

All that pressure often feels like a heavy burden to carry back and forth. The new generation is facing the hardships of this world; they are new in this hence its overwhelming and there is pressure from society. You have to be strong to make it in this life which is killing many physically, mentally and emotionally. Even people who ordinarily appear strong need assistance from time to time.

Basotho are known as proud and strong people. But we are a nation that is peaceful and abides by their traditional family structures and societal norms yet losing a great value of youngsters due to overlooked mental illness that is spreading like wildfire among this future generation.

The mantra that education is key to success is being preached daily, but is it really worth it? Youngsters work hard at school and do tremendously well just so they face nepotism and unemployment with the expectation of staying sane. Even though the stigma surrounding mental illness still exists, more and more people have realised the importance of receiving treatment.

The first thing noticeable was that people are accepting this illness and more of them are already getting treatment, which was quite satisfying. A number of patients are going to collect their medication and some are getting admitted.

Most of them were between ages of 18 and 35. It is no secret that in this country, mental illness still continues to be a problem as people do not understand the dangers of acting tough and staying strong even when the world has turned its back on you and you pray every night for this earth to just open up and swallow you whole. The burden that’s heavy on his shoulders hoping one of the good days the hymn he sings ‘pass me not oh gentle saviour hear my humble cry’ looking up into heaven with faith that assistance is near, will be lifted and thrown into the flames of hell but to no avail.

Depression, self-doubt, anxiety, panic attacks slowly creep in and at just the snap of a finger, he lives in his own fantasy world. Maybe the sun is always shinning there judging from their smiles all the time. Moreover, depression in most cases goes unreported until in the late stages where measures to manage the condition are compromised resulting in admission to hospital.

Some still blame mental illness on witchcraft, magic, spirits and failure to follow rituals or ancestor’s orders because they still fail to make a distinction between mental illness caused by physiological abnormalities in the sufferer’s brain. Depression is the main source when it comes to mental breakdown hence it has to be treated before causing more damage to one’s lucidity. Measures to diagnose and manage depression early remain a challenge due to fear of stigma, understaffed hospitals, lack of mental health specialised workers and negative attitude of health workers towards mental health.

Some of these challenges are encountered at Mohlomi Hospital. In a conversation Thabiso Khotso, one of the nurses, clarified that they are doing their level best to care for their patients but they are facing major challenges such as being underfinanced yet the hospital is overcrowded.

He shows concerns such as them not providing certain activities for their patients because they are underfinanced is a challenge. “We have a problem as a hospital because as long as we are underfinanced we cannot afford to bring about activities for our patients, these things need money,” he stated. He also specified that some patients come from South Africa and deporting them back to their country is a long process while some just never leave the hospital as it has become their safe haven.

He further stated that the male ward only has 35 beds. Mohlomi hospital also has four doctors, four wards for admitting sufferers and four phycologists. Walking along the corridors of this cold, lonely traumatising place feeling these white walls closing in on him, so much space yet he felt suffocated. The echoes and huge black heavy butler doors made it look like prison. Tumelo is probably aged between 20 and 25 and he was staring into space eating a banana without peeling it.

“What does it taste like,” he replied, “Its bitter.” His innocent miserable face was proof that the condition he was in was unbearable. As cold as it is, he was wearing a torn jacket and his trousers had cuts and looked very dirty.

He had put on gumboots, one green and the other black, of the same foot on different feet. He kept humming a song, a sad one for that matter but his face lit up every time he took a bite from his unpeeled banana.

The traditional family structure of Basotho where one member of the family may be a breadwinner for the whole extended family triggers depression which may later lead to drug abuse, especially among men. One member of the family may be a breadwinner for the whole extended family and most of them are factory workers and domestic workers within the minimum income bracket either in the country or in South Africa. This means they have to leave their families resulting in a stressful family situation.

The traditional belief that men don’t cry has driven many to mental institutions. Khotso stated that most sufferers admitted into the hospital were using drugs which triggered mental illness. The hospital also deals with involuntary admissions where the police have power of detention if a patient is or has behaved violently towards oneself or other people, according to mental health law.

It also deals with magistrate power of detention where the information upon the oath is brought before the magistrate that the person within limits of jurisdiction of the magistrate has a mental disorder. Prisoners affected by mental health are also examined and assessed by an approved mental health professional at Mohlomi Hospital as some have been said to not be in their right state of mind when committing crimes.

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