With family rejection rife in some communities, a former mental health patient has urged relatives to give their loved ones a second shot at life.
About a year ago, Melvin Matodzi* was discharged from the Hayani Psychiatric Hospital just outside Thohoyandou in Limpopo. He received treatment for schizophrenia and said it’s very difficult to pick up the pieces and lead a normal life again. Once admitted to a mental institution, stigma and discrimination are part of the parcel.
Mental health patients shamed
“I was fortunate that my family, which include my parents, wife, and three children, welcomed me back home with open arms. At first, they feared the things I did before I was admitted. I used to be very difficult to live with because I was sometimes violent towards them. But today, I am grateful they took me back,” said Matodzi*.
The Mayo Clinic state that schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder that people interpret abnormally. Schizophrenia may result in some combination of hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking and behaviour that impairs daily functioning.
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Matodzi* said that he witnessed some recovering patients lose hope after caregivers told them their relatives didn’t want them to return home. As a result, they relapsed on their medication.
A sad sight
“Their families were afraid of their past behaviour. I saw the frustration and sadness on the faces of some who have been at Hayani for months,” said Matodzi*.
Earlier this month, Health-e News reported how the hospital struggled to cope with overcrowding and a lack of beds. Patients, rejected by their loved ones, continue to occupy the beds while new patients wait to admit.
Matodzi is one of the lucky ones but hated seeing fellow patients suffer.
“My plea to South Africans is that they support those with a mental illness, especially if they are close to you. Being detained at a mental institution is like being in prison. Imagine the torture of knowing that you’re going to spend the rest of your life at the institution, despite having recovered,” he explained.
Life goes on
Though he still struggles to gain acceptance among people from his community, Matodzi*, who runs a sound hire business, says it is possible to lead a normal life after undergoing treatment.
He added: “There is a life afterwards, but that can only be realised if you are embraced and given enough support by those close to you. I am doing my best to reclaim my life, despite the stigma and discrimination I experience daily.”
Avhatakali Netshitungulu, a Social Worker at Hayani Psychiatric hospital, confirmed that stigma and discrimination remain tremendous obstacles.
“We support and encourage recovered patients daily. Patients rejected by their families must carry on with their treatment. Discrimination is wrong at all levels,” said Netshitungulu.
Education and engagement
“We continue to engage and educate communities about mental illness. It’s important to empower them with information so they can realise that a person with mental illness is still human. And, if they stick to their medication, they can lead normal lives – but this is only possible with the support of family, friends, and the community,” Netshitungulu said.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said many mental health conditions could be treated relatively cheaply. Yet the gap between people needing care and those with access to care remains substantial.
Matodzi* has encouraged those with a mental illness to stay positive and refrain from drugs and alcohol.
“I used to smoke dagga a lot. Up to this day, I don’t know what triggered my condition. But, I am grateful that the disease is currently under control with the medication. Stay on your treatment if you have a mental illness. Please continue. Everything will be well,” he added. -Health-e News