‘We also want to be treated as human beings’

‘We also want to be treated as human beings’The World Health Organisation says stigma and lack of understanding about mental disorders are major barriers to seeking help and promoting better mental health. (Photo Credit: Ndivhuwo Mukwevho)

Patients with mental health issues in Limpopo have been abandoned by their families at a facility. It is one example of the challenges associated with stigma.

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Thirty-eight mentally ill patients at Hayani Specialised Hospital in Makwarela in the Vhembe district have been cleared to return home but have been rejected by their families. Another four patients’ families remain unknown.

A challenge everyone needs to overcome

Health MEC Dr Phophi Ramathuba says she is concerned those families are fuelling stigma against people with mental illnesses. “In this facility, I am not really impressed as we have about 38 patients who are known to their families, but they have been rejected by those who are supposed to love them, and this becomes a problem and a huge challenge [for] us,” says Ramathuba.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says stigma and lack of understanding about mental disorders are major barriers to seeking help and promoting better mental health. 

Speaking during a family day at the hospital, Ramathuba says: “It is wrong to discriminate [against] people with mental health as we all have some form of mental illness. For us, mental health is equally a priority and we have to treat it as an emergency. Whatever threatens life should be treated as an emergency, for instance, if one has symptoms of depression, they should be treated because if left untreated, that person [could] end up committing suicide.” 

She adds that discrimination against people with mental illness remains a challenge in society. “Those of you who discriminate [against] those who have a mental illness, you’re the ones who need help as a normal person understands that not all people can be the same. We must stop discriminating [against] people because [they] suffer from mental illness. The hospital beds are always full because [some] are ready to go home but they are being rejected by their families,” she says.

The provincial health department has plans to visit the families who have abandoned their mentally ill relatives at Hayani Hospital. “We have acquired a list of all those families who have abandoned their relatives here and with the help of traditional leaders, we will be visiting them one by one.”

Hurtful encounters

Kanukani Ramovha (40) from Ha-Mutsha village outside Thohoyandou spent five years at Hayani Hospital and was spurned by his family. He says it can drive a mentally ill patient to commit suicide because they need love and support.

“Though now I am healthy and living with my family, I was once rejected by my relatives until one of my brothers decided to come and take me. My mom used to be afraid of me because before I was admitted [to] the hospital I used to smoke dagga and abuse alcohol, which used to make me violent. I was first diagnosed with mental illness in 1999 but I ignored the doctor’s orders and stopped taking the treatment until I was readmitted in 2013,” says Ramovha. 

He says people who suffer from mental health illnesses need support from their families and close friends because they didn’t choose to have a mental illness. “Though I believe I became mentally sick by overindulging in dagga and alcohol, no one chooses to be mentally ill, so we need all the support we can get to be able to overcome to this challenge and lead normal lives again. I plead with parents and guardians to look after their family members who are currently suffering from mental illnesses as their support will mean everything to them and help them to recover,” he says.

A patient at Hayani Hospital, Rendani Munyembane (23), says being called names can lead to anger, and also violence. “I’m pleading with people to stop calling us with funny names as it is one of the things that make us angry. We also want to be treated as human beings with love and respect. Being told that you have a mental illness is difficult to accept but when people refer to us using funny names it makes life extra hard. All we need is to be supported,” says Munyembane.

He says: “People shouldn’t fear to associate themselves with us. We are also human beings and if we are given enough support and follow our treatment, we are also able to lead normal lives. And people must also stop taking grant money given to us by the government to use it for their own benefits.” – Health-e News