“What is the ideal for mental health, then? A lived, compelling illusion that does not lie about life, death, and reality; one honest enough to follow its own commandments: I mean, not to kill, not to take the lives of others to justify itself.”
― Ernest Becker
Channel 4 News first covered the story of mental health services in Somalia last year, I watched the report with utter sadness, through a genetic lottery which those of us with mental health problems lose, the people featured in the programme were social pariah’s, locked out of society for being ‘mad’ or ‘the village idiot’ purely because of the lack of understanding within the community of mental illness.
They followed a mental health nurse who with limited resources was doing the very best she could, but, as always, couldn’t reach everyone. One of the people covered in this report was a man named Abdullahi, he had spent years chained in a goat shed, not allowed to enter the family home or to spend time with his family, to participate in society. All of this was because his family didn’t understand his illness. The report ended with the nurse taking him away to the hospital she worked from so that she could treat him.
I remember thinking how lucky we are here, despite the problems we face here in the UK with our mental health services, despite the discrimination we still face, there isn’t anything on this level; and should anything like this be uncovered the family would be prosecuted.
I felt lucky that I had a family who have always loved and supported me whatever has happened, that I’ve had access to medication, and that even though I’ve sometimes had to fight tooth and nail for it, there are support services available.
I was sad, that there are still countries where this sort of treatment of a human being is still considered acceptable. It is just chance that determines where and when we are born. This could have been any one of us with mental illness.
Then today, Channel 4 News followed up on their story, they showed a healthy Abdullahi, who after eight months of hospital treatment was ready to return to his family. They accepted him into the home for the first time and started to treat him as a human being.
The hope I felt watching the story was anxious hope, it proved how simple it is to help people with mental illness, that people need to learn what it is and how to look after it. That chaining somebody up in a goat shed isn’t going to make things better.
I hope we see another update next year showing further progress, lessons learned, and that Abdullahi will have been further accepted not just by his family but by his whole village.
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