AFTER ALL, WE ARE HUMAN TOO
Masked Behind the Stigma
It’s easier to be a mental health advocate behind screens tweeting 'no shame and discrimination' than being one in real life. That’s a hard fact. It’s easier to love mentally ill persons from afar than be in close contact. Talk to that homeless mentally ill person on the streets? Nope. Especially as Africans — deep down in us we believe mental illnesses result from witchcraft. Now, I don’t mean we should go about trying to talk to homeless, mentally ill persons (Wisdom plays an important role here), but I’m calling your attention to the stigma attached to them.
I volunteer at the ASIDO Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation intent on promoting mental health awareness. We're currently running a project called Project Hope 2x2x2 in which we take homeless, mentally ill persons off the streets and rehabilitate them so they become more productive members of society.
I (and other volunteers) got the opportunity to visit one of the beneficiaries of the project at the University College Hospital, Ibadan. Really, I didn't want to go at first because I didn't know what to expect. My knees were knocking, figuratively speaking. I was visibly uncomfortable, but one of the volunteers assured me.
No, nobody was chained or screaming. It was...peaceful actually. Some of the patients were watching TV, others were in their beds, and others were in groups. The person we went to visit was quite energetic and so excited to see us. He made sure we were comfortable and even went out of his way to get chairs for us.
They had amala and ewedu for lunch, and I overheard a patient complain about the type of amala they were served — he preferred white amala. The doctor was confused — he obviously wasn't from around here — "Which one is white amala again? Is amala not amala?"
That discussion showed me firsthand that they are humans too with actual personalities; they have likes and dislikes. It would have been great to hear someone tell me about this but experiencing it was a game-changer.
Also, it was clear that the patients were somewhat lonely; a few of them hung around us, and one of them approached some of us to ask questions. He wanted to know what we did, whether we were social workers, and he was quite interested in what we had to say. Apparently, he was a university student like me. Sadly, we couldn't talk much because we were leaving.
Honestly, I was planning to give him the wrong name if he asked, but then, I realized how 'uncool' (that's putting it lightly) that was. I was ashamed of myself.
Real life is definitely better than theory, and I believe this experience of visiting mentally ill persons is a defining one for me. Many people are living with undiagnosed mental illnesses, and great examples are the people you and I see on the streets every day. It's easier to look away; it's more difficult to wake up and do something about it.
If you want to do the 'harder' thing, spread this message and let everyone know about Project Hope 2x2x2. Also, you can donate to Project Hope 2×2×2 to help get more homeless, mentally ill people off the streets by sending your donations to:
Asido Ohieku Foundation
Written by Jesugbemi Adedeji, President of Asido Campus Network, OAU, Writer, Reader, Volunteer.