by Uju Amanambu
I recently read about Osayande Ekhato, the 45-year -old mentally ill man who died in a church during a ‘deliverance’ session. Now, there are two major accounts of his death. His family claims he was stripped, tortured and beaten to death, while the church claims he hit his head on an object during the session. Hopefully, an autopsy will decide. My question is; why a church? What happened to a psychiatric hospital?
In a country with an ever growing literacy level, one wonders why mental illness is met with so much ignorance. In an age where we have an array of information at hand, why is mental health still a subject hidden in the dark? A taboo subject that only a minority shows interest in?
During one of my many journeys to the eastern part of Nigeria as a young girl, I was beyond shock to see a group of miserable-looking men and women chained together at the ankle begging for alms. These people looked starved, desolated and broken. Sores, both old and new covered their bodies, and their heads were as bald as an eagle’s. When I enquired, I was told that they were inmates of a traditional ‘psychiatric’ home under the care of a powerful dibia and must beg for alms to earn their keep. I still vividly remember one of them – a young woman, perhaps no more than 25. What brought my attention to her, were her eyes – they were sunken and lifeless, it was as if she wasn’t there and I wondered what her story was, how she came to be part of the pitiable lot.
The world over, mental illness has some certain stigma, but in most developed countries they let the professionals handle it. People in these countries freely visit psychiatrists for proper evaluation; even some of the most admired people have been diagnosed with mental illness and live through it each day with the help of their doctors. However, in our society, this must never be heard of. Families prefer to live in denial and call upon pastors, priests and witch-doctors for ‘deliverance’. Neighbors must never hear of it or we’d become laughing stock. Somehow it is better that relatives are labeled ‘possessed’ than be seen as mentally ill. Is mental illness such a formidable stigma?
We set up the stage for further disintegration, and when the illness becomes unmanageable, the victims are locked up or rushed to proper psychiatric facilities, that is if they do not die first at the hands of their ‘healers’ like Osayande.
I oft wonder what we are doing as a country to put an end to this madness. Do we not care that people are dying, are being starved, tortured, abused, and made to live in deplorable conditions in the name of ‘deliverance’? Do we prefer to let this wretched ignorance that has so eaten into our society continue its cancerous feast? Ignorance, they say, is no excuse- the more enlightened ones, must cast the light and take lead.
Uju Amanambu is the author of ‘A Broken Rose’, a new novel shedding light on the stigma associated with mental illness.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.