It was going to rain. The dark grey clouds rolled menacingly across town, blanketing the whole place with its shadows; it felt more like evening than afternoon. The winds accompanying the clouds whipped about angrily, screaming here, howling there, and threatening to wipe clean the land of anything and everything. Everyone ran helter-skelter to seek shelter from the threatening downpour. Despite the impending damage, people muttered a prayer of thanks; it had been dry for far too long.
Before one could say jack, the rain started. It didn’t go back on its silent promise: it fell heavily and with no restraint. Everyone had found some kind of shelter to protect themselves. Well, not everyone. There was one man who was still outside. He was seated under a tree, dejected and resigned to his situation. He didn’t seem to care about the rain nor about the people who were running up and down earlier and aside a few furtive glances, they had paid no attention to him. He had been sitting under the tree for over eighteen months and his back was sore from leaning against the tree which was his only source of shelter. He was chained to the tree, and the only movements he could make were to stretch his hands and put food in his mouth, lay on the floor or sit. This has been his situation for over the eighteen months since he was first chained to that tree.
No matter the situation, rain or shine, day or night, he is always at his position under the tree. On a few occasions, one of the women in the compound where the tree was would bring a piece of cloth to cover him when it was extremely cold. After the rain, he will have to wait for the clothes he wore to dry because he did not have any other things to wear, but for now, he had to survive the storm unscathed: that no lightning struck him, no branch breaks off and crushes him or that the tree remains rooted.
Before he found himself in this situation, he was a free man who went about his daily activities like every other person. Everything was going on relatively well until he developed a high fever. He was taken to an herbalist who gave him some treatment but the sickness kept coming back and with it came strange behaviors. There were times he would strip naked and walk around the streets while talking animatedly to himself, he would also be speaking to some of the people he met but no one could make head and tail out of what he said. Once in a while, he would get violent and attack anyone that was close by. The family received numerous reports of his attacks on people and got tired so decided to tie him to the tree outside the house.
The herbalist has warned them that it will be risky to take him off the chains so they were afraid to do anything else. He also told them he was cursed and that was why he was suffering from such an illness. In the beginning, he would plead with his family to untie him to attend to nature’s call, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. He was grimly told to do it in the open, just where he had his shelter. When his wife and children tried freeing him, the family head forbade them because he didn’t want the curse to be brought unto the whole family.
He has never taken a bath since the day he was put in chains and tied under the tree, the only way he got water on his body was when it rained. Anytime he got sick with malaria or had a fever or a cold, they would boil herbs for him to drink. That was how bad the situation was. He has become a “burden” the family had to handle, no longer a father, brother, husband or uncle; he has lost all dignity as a person. He has been ostracized by the very people he loved. It was not uncommon to find him with his head down, silently weeping. He rarely ate and hardly uttered a word. This situation doesn’t encourage recovery.
His wife is now afraid of him because he occasionally becomes violent and attacks anyone in his path. Whenever she cooks for him, she would cautiously place the food by his side and hurriedly leave, trying her hardest not to look at him. His children could no longer play with other children because everyone referred to them “a mad man’s children”. Going to school was a big challenge for them because everyone used their father’s condition to tease them. Initially they were reporting to the teachers but the teachers eventually got tired of their complaints.
There are a lot of people who are even in worse situations because they are suffering from mental health issues. If you have a mentally ill person near you, be kind to them. Tying them up or chaining them will cause them more harm than good. If their condition is severe, please seek medical care. There are a lot of health personnel who are trained specially to handle mental health cases at the various health centers and hospitals. They are professionals whose job is to help mentally ill people manage their illness or refer them to the appropriate institutions for diagnosis and treatment. If you find some of them on the streets too, do not throw stones and sticks at them nor be mean to them in any way. It is not their fault that they are on the streets, it could be you or me tomorrow, so just be nice.
Unfortunately, most of us who are “enlightened” in society are the guiltiest when it comes to stigmatizing against mentally ill patients. Making a conscious effort to know more about mental health illnesses can easily change that. In Ghana, there are 3 Psychiatric Hospitals which are dedicated to handling mental health issues, from mild to severe cases; Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital in Cape Coast, Pantang Psychiatric Hospital in Accra and Accra Psychiatric Hospital. Accra Psychiatric was built in 1904, and commissioned in 1906, at a time when mental patients were considered social deviants and were kept away from the society like prisoners. The building was designed with very high walls and tiny windows with bars just like a prison. There are also some private institutions and organizations that are dedicated to providing support for mentally ill persons. In a conversation I had with a mental health nurse, she recalled that though some of the mental health hospitals might be lacking in certain facilities, they are far safer for mentally ill patients than the streets or their homes, and if you report to any hospital or health center, you can be referred to the right places for support and possible treatment.
An example of organizations providing support to mentally ill persons is the Bahass Foundation. This post is dedicated to its founder, Mr. Illiasu Baba Yussif popularly known as Chairman Bahass. He is an herbal medicine practitioner. The foundation started operation in the year 2004 as a voluntary community group, to assist in the improvement of the lives of people living with mental illness on the streets of Upper West Region, specifically in the Wa municipality. These people were ignored, often abandoned or without family, unfed, unclothed and untreated. The organization had formal and legal registration as non-governmental organization in the year 2010. Currently the organization serves about seventy five 75 mentally ill people in the Wa municipality, of which 57 were living on the streets, 18 living with their families. 8 out of the 57 mentally ill are living with
HIV/AIDS. Bahass Foundation now engages in several projects including creating awareness on mental health, substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, livelihood empowerment through aid from a VSLA (Village Savings and Loans Association) with a focus on agriculture. It has extended its humanitarian reach to three other districts in the Upper West Region. You can contact Bahass Foundation via their email firstname.lastname@example.org or call them on 0244690159/0207631793 or Bahass GH on Facebook.
You can also support the activities of Bahass foundation or any organization that is working to improve the lives of mentally ill people in your community by donating or volunteering with them during one of their community outreaches. Mental illness is not a curse and it can be managed successfully for one to live a meaningful and full life. Everyone can be a victim of mental illness. Before you involve yourself in anything, ask yourself if it is good for your sanity and mental health. If it doesn’t look positive and is likely to affect your mental health negatively, you might want to reconsider. Let us stop stigmatization against mentally ill patients, they deserve some love too. Kudos to all mental health professionals and mental health advocates all over the world. CHEERS!!!