What you need to know:
- WHO reported a 93 per cent decline in mental health services accessibility
- WHO said in a survey mental health is chronically underfunded
- The pandemic has triggered a rise in mental health issues
In a pandemic in which everyone is expected to wear a mask, being masked in a disease that people often misunderstand is tough.
Abnormal times, they say. But, the daily reminder is that adjusting to the new normal will keep you safe because no one knows how long the virus will hang around.
With the new normal, mental health patients have had to change lanes, not just shift gears, and while it has been a blessing to some, to others, it has been a nightmare.
However, psychologists warn that the lonely path is not good for mental health patients. And with the World Health Organization (WHO) reporting that there has been a 93 per cent decline in mental health services accessibility, danger lurks in our midst.
Moses Mpuria was diagnosed with bipolar disorder nine years ago. Today, he writes about it on his Facebook timeline as Twanga Pepeta, in a series called Tincture of Madness.
In one of his series, he starts off the article with: “The normal people of this crazy world declared me a lunatic in August 2011, and had me attended at Mathari Mental Hospital for weeks and later Portreitz Mental Hospital for almost three years.” In as much as the opening insinuates that there are two classes of people, normal and abnormal, he does not think there are abnormal people. And one of his stories introduces us to a man who lived like everyone else growing up, but at 23, his life had a turnaround.
He links his condition to family.
“My dad was a mental case, so are his brothers. In fact, my dad, who was first admitted to a mental hospital in 1977, died after receiving an injection in 2005 to calm him down when he went berserk,” he tells Healthy Nation.
So, in 2011 when he learnt of his condition and he was taken to a mental hospital, everything else had hit a dead end. His folks tried solving his problem the African way. He says that after a number of trips to witch doctors and pastors, who were meant to 'exorcise demons,’ nothing worked.
“When the first witchdoctor arrived, he could not treat a 23-year-old who was quoting the Bible," he says in his Facebook post. “In hindsight, considering my dad’s condition, I was a mental case from my early teens just that no one considered my obsession with books and my reserved way of life as a mental illness."
He does not think the pandemic has affected him much. “Actually, I have achieved more at work in the past six months than I have in the past two years. Maybe because being insane makes you thrive in circumstances that are not normal," he says.
Moses says when he was in the mental hospital, not once did he see a psychiatrist or psychologist, just nurses.
Purity Wanja (not her real name) remembers being a sad girl as early as in her primary school days. Her mother left her at her paternal grandparents' home at 14 months, but they reunited after 10 years. And the years in between, she says, were a roller-coaster and her emotions were shattered.
“Bad things happen to kids who do not have mothers. I was bullied throughout primary school, and I was sexually molested when I was very small. I think I was below seven years. I never had a chance to be a child,” she says.
The many years of missing a mother’s love and being taken advantage of have had an impact on her depression. “You don’t get mentally ill overnight,” says Purity.
With the challenges, both at home and in school, she still pulled through and made it to university, but she is not living her dreams.
When the Coronavirus lockdown was imposed, she was living with a cousin, working as a house help. That took a toll on her. “I was in a job that I did not like, and I could not go home. I was bored at the job, and had a very major episode of depression,” she says.
When the ban was lifted, she went home and things have been well since. At home, crocheting has been her form of therapy since she could not see a psychologist. “Psychologists are expensive. The lowest I have paid is Sh1,500 for a session, and Sh3,000 at most,” she says.
For someone who has no source of income, it is hard to get Sh1,500 for every appointment.
HealthyNation probes into how she has been dealing with such episodes when there is no money to go for counselling. “Sometimes I wait for them (episodes) to go away. I get tired of wanting to be better, so most of the time I flow with it. I sleep, I watch, I cry. After some time, even days, I wake up feeling better and all happy and psyched up,” she says.
Arnelle Omondi, a counselling psychologist, says the pandemic has triggered a rise in mental health issues. Only that most of the services have been conducted online. “The virtual sessions are not as effective as the physical ones because having a physical patient makes you know how they feel,” she says.
For people like Moses and Purity, who have been withdrawn due to the ongoing pandemic, he says it may be unhealthy. "They need people around them and someone to talk to like a psychologist," says the psychologist.
When the World Mental Health Day was marked on October 10, the WHO said in a survey that was released prior to the event that the area is chronically underfunded. “Countries were spending less than two per cent of their national health budgets on mental health, and struggling to meet their populations’ needs,” the survey said.
Omondi says once mental health advocacy is not just on paper but in practice, those suffering from it will feel heard. “The people in the rural area are highly disadvantaged, yet most of the domestic violence cases are reported from those areas,” she says.
“The government should include mental health departments in all institutions, especially public ones to increase accessibility since it is very expensive,” she says.