As a mental health specialist, I try to figure out what my friend considers madness.
By Moses Kimuli
I am standing at the Post Office building along Kampala Road with a colleague. It is hot and I decide to take a rest with the friend. We ask ourselves to identify who among all the people walking and around us is “mad”?
Mad in this case meaning mentally ill people.
Well, we grew up calling people mad but for us once one is mad it meant violent throwing stones or talking to himself or herself all day while in dirty rags.
As a mental health specialist, I try to figure out what my friend considers madness, but of course I know there are over 3,000 types of mental illnesses.
Just like I was before my mental health training and exposure to some kind of mental illnesses in the national health service in the United Kingdom, I knew one mad person on the village. He was dirty and wore rags with head lice and talked to himself all day and night.
He slept in a trench and ate from the bin.
Back to our counting ‘mad’ people on the street, and Post Office being along Kampala Road and the main road leading to Butabika Hospital, I am told many use it after escaping from Butabika Hospital. My friend counts at least 10. These were visibly dirty and scary. Some shouting, while others were carrying smelly dirty stuff.
She passes the test because she believes mental illness is only displayed by wearing dirty rags and being smelly shouting around, the same belief my fellow passengers had the previous night when a mentally ill man entered a taxi smelling, forcing the passengers chase him out before we proceeded. It comes to my mind that a lot has to be done regarding mental illness.
The only form of mental illness known in the community is schizophrenia. This is the easiest to spot as the person loses touch with reality. These, if untreated, can neglect themselves and are the ones you find on streets.
Several cases catch my mind while I am in Uganda. The first one is of the son of a much respected person in Ugandan history. A colleague I was talking to asks me what I was doing in the United Kingdom and I explained and he asked me to help some special person.
Arrangements were made for me to meet the mother of this person.
We met at a hotel. As we talked, the widower explains what happened to her son, saying: “He became reserved when my husband died.” “But it has since worsened, he has lost his job and has refused to work again despite being over-qualified. Recently, he kicked his brother out of their parent’s house after pulling out a knife.”
I felt sorry for this widow. The late husband did a lot for Uganda and would not be happy in his grave for leaving his son confined in one room struggling to come to the fact that he is now dead. I assure the widow that I can help and start this man on treatment and he can recover well.
One stumbling block was he would not see me because he believed he was fine. We call that in mental health lack of insight in his mental health.
Before I left Uganda, I had not heard of what happened to him, but I believe unless he got treatment he is still confined in his small room.
Then I watch Agataliiko Nfuufu news on Bukedde TV and see a young man who claims he was recruited into illuminati and so he was asked to bring his brother’s head and unfortunately, he kills his brother gruesomely and takes the head to be recruited into illuminati. But who kills their brother to be recruited in illuminati?
Then comes a 70-year-old woman looking for a husband and promises to give birth to kids for the right gentleman who comes in her life. The now toothless woman claims in the advert of women seeking men that she will give the best love and also bear children. I switch off the television and forget about it.
Then comes another case of a well-known doctor whose names I totally forgot. She is protesting for having problems with her job.
She undresses but not only that, she smears the whole premises of her bosses with a liquid that looks like blood. How weird?
The average aged lady is seen naked, shouting and smearing a substance that looks like blood on walls. It is a kind of protest, one argues and it is common in Europe where she spent time, he adds. I had never seen this kind of protest in my life. Trying to follow this doctor on social media, there is a clip of her reportedly talking to her dead mum. How is this possible? I ask myself. The agitation and energy used by this individual clearly states that there is an underlying mental health condition.
She is not alone. One time, one of Uganda’s presidential candidates was a patient and still being looked after by some known specialist.
I waited for this candidate to go through to become Uganda’s president and, of course, do not get me wrong; mental illness is just like any other disease and can be cured or managed, but having a president with a history of mental illness would have made news and would have been hope to those suffering on their own.
My advice and prayers is that some prominent Ugandan people should come out and admit that mental illness is not the worst illness and can be treated to encourage people to seek medical assistance. The British Royal family has come out several times to join in the awareness of mental illness. A lot has been done with HIV and this has helped in stopping the spread of HIV and also encouraging people seek treatment.
One of out of four of us will at some point in our life suffer from some form of mental illness, according to World Health Organisation so why sweep the problem under the carpet? Let us come out and assure people that having mental illness is okay and it can be treated or managed. No one can mention Uganda’s best footballers and miss Andrew Fimbo Mukasa who has struggled with mental illness that abruptly ended his career. It could be you or me next.
A man who would be or called “mad” in Uganda successfully broke into the Queen’s palace twice in England the last time beating surveillance and arrested almost near the Queen. He was since treated for his illness. And you think all mad people are stupid and useless? I personally believe we are all mad but it depends on the severity and in most cases early diagnosis can help. So if we hear of early diagnosis of cancer helping stopping death why not seek mental health treatment at the earliest stage?
The writer is a specialist in Forensic mental health nursing and Talking therapies based in London United kingdom