THE PLIGHT OF MENTAL HEALTH REHABILITATION
It is said that “Mental Health is Real Health” and one would never appreciate this fact until they know what really mental health is all about. Mental Health can basically be understood as the psychological state of well-being, characterized by continuing personal growth, a sense of purpose in life, self-acceptance, and positive relations with others. A number of different aspects of life do influence the mental state of a human being and these aspects include working life, family life, and the social role that one occupies in the community. Negative experiences in these areas reduce one’s overall sense of well-being thereby leading to mental illness.
Another influence on mental health is stress. Generally, we experience stress every day in a lot of areas like major life events, such as divorce, death of a spouse, loss of a job, and illness in the family. Besides that, economic hardship, unemployment, and poverty also produce chronic stress. These events deeply affect one’s ability to cope and function effectively thus disrupting one’s mental state. Mental Health is a goal we must aspire to achieve.
For a very long time, mental illnesses have been regarded as problems of the very poorest in society and have received high level of negligence towards the promotion of mental health. We need to take things easy in life and make sure that our ability to modify our lives to more adaptive ways is key. There is a fine line in mental health, this is the reason why others in some cases fail and end up being admitted in mental institutions.
In Zambia we are privileged to have a mental health rehabilitation centre where patients go for rehabilitation. However, the state in which the centre operates in leaves much to be desired.
A visit to Nsadzu Rehabilitation Centre in Chadiza Eastern Province of Zambia would make you have a change of heart. Concerns have been voiced that raise issues of human rights crisis and an urgent need for change, with little response. While Nsadzu is named as a rehabilitation facility, no residents seem to have ever moved from this place back to their families or to new environments.
The general feel of the place, though set in a lovely natural environment, is one of abandonment. The inadequate physical structures for living, cooking and in existent laundry facilities with doors to rooms suffering from termite damage; buildings looking structurally unsound with sections of the wall missing from the floor to the roof level; the skinny and dirty old men and women; are the sights that greet you as you arrive.
The centre used to house about 30 residents but now currently 14, without any transfers out. The age range is from young adult to elderly with some of the residents having been at the centre since the 1980s.
Residents develop swollen limbs, rash and then slowly die due to poor nutrition and care. After death, the residents’ burial-site is just in the nearby bush, then day-to-day activities resumes immediately which is a normal routine in this community. Concerning visitations, no one remembers ever being visited by any relative. Unfortunately, it is being forgotten that it is just a rehabilitation process for a time period where the need for repatriation back to their families or society is inevitably essential.
As it should concern any person with a sound mind, such a situation that our relatives live in, is a humanitarian crisis. It falls short by a very long way in providing a healthy, safe and meaningful environment or definition of rehabilitation. Residents’ vulnerability as amplified by the lack of alternative options for care and complete reliance on the rehabilitation centre to meet their needs; the psychological and torturous impacts on the surviving residents after the death of their newly-found families, while knowing that they would never leave; is a humanitarian emergency.
Such is a typical picture of how mental health issues are being handled in most African countries, sometimes even worse. This is the time we must put aside stigma associated with mental illness and embrace one another as one family. Africa has a rich culture of caring for fellow neighbours. Neglect of relatives sent to various forms of rehabilitation centres must be abhorred. Family and social support whenever crises occurs is vital.
Mental illness is real and anyone can be affected at anytime. We need to have a change of mentality, an open mind to freely talk about mental health issues just like any other illness. Social support from friends and family members is fundamentally important to recovery. These can take several forms such as a simple step of responding with concern and care, empathy, and advice. Social support is our pride as Africans, let us embrace it and lead by example.