Loving the Mentally ill

His name is Chris. He suffers from Paranoid Schizophrenia with persecutory delusions.

He is one of the best friends I ever had. Our relationship has gone through the worst downs and then the best highs. He can be kind, creative and funny. Then, when he goes into a manic phase, he becomes paranoid, sometimes delusional. Also, there have been times when he goes into catatonia, just staying still in bizarre poses and not saying a word, or when he does speak, not make any sense at all. The most terrifying part of his manic phase is when he appears completely lucid but is paranoid and delusional in his thoughts.

He has been going through this seemingly lucid, but very paranoid phase, in the last few days. The events of the last few weeks in Kenya have been quite stressful for all of us and especially for him. One of our other friends, whom he cares about deeply, was brutally raped, and she went into a psychotic break. We all thought Chris was handling the situation rather well. Unfortunately the stress had thrown him into a heightened, but quiet, emotional state which then developed into mania.

Living with and loving a person with schizophrenia can be painful, sometimes dangerous at worst, and most rewarding at best. Last night I got home tired and rather anxious about my new job. I had barely rested when Chris’ father called me and told me that Chris had been hospitalized for treatment after a really bad day.

In his lucid but paranoid state, Chris had convinced himself of the identity of his friend’s rapists. Unfortunately, the person he had fixated upon was his own brother. Chris was convinced that his brother was jealous that he, Chris, was finally making friends and, even perhaps, getting a love life. In his mind he had formulated his brother’s plan to destroy his young love by raping and thus defiling his young friend.

One other thing that contributed to this rather sad episode is Chris’ love for the Bible. He loves reading passages especially the ones about angels. He has once before declared himself to be the angel, Gabriel, bringing good tidings to a friend who had no idea she was pregnant but who turned out to be joyfully pregnant with a son after two miscarriages.

This time he decided that he was Michael the avenging angel. In the Bible, Michael is described as battling with a dragon who had earlier threatened to destroy a pregnant woman. I have no idea how the information assembles itself in Chris’ mind. All I know is that his delusional thoughts can be quite dangerous when he is fixated on them.

So Michael/Chris set out to battle with the dragon/his brother, arming himself with a long sword/wooden bar. His poor brother hadn’t seen it coming and was himself hospitalized with a head wound and a concussion.

I woke up with tears in my eyes today. I thought about the pain Chris’ parents and his siblings have been going through since his first psychotic break when he was 19. I thought about the inadequate and slowly developing psychiatric care in Kenya. As it is, the number of psychiatric care personnel, is seriously limited. The brain drain does not offer much hope of improvement. The facilities for psychiatric care are, at best, deficient. I dread to think of the place where Chris is going to be spending the next few days. Psycho-pharmaceuticals are grossly expensive making it difficult for some patients to follow through on treatment. As far as I have seen, there are no reliable treatment/therapy programs; even though, to be fair, some doctors expend themselves in the care of their patients.

I am personally indebted to a Dr. Owiti and Dr. M. Makenyengo for their care of my two friends and for their efforts to help me and my friends’ families understand and support the two as best as we can. I am certain that there are more psychiatric practitioners, though few and functioning on limited resources, who are devoted to caring for patients with mental disorders.

Now, my tears are not just for Chris, but also for the many, especially the young who will have to deal with post-traumatic stress disorders with or without psychological and psychiatric care and support. My tears extend to the many others who have pre-existing mental illnesses, and those who reach psychotic breaks because of the stress of living in uncertain times.

I am eternally grateful, for the organizations that are offering free psychological help for children, and some women. I would especially like to thank The Nairobi Women’s Gender Violence Response Program, The Kenya Women’s Hospital and the many other charities who have set out to address this part of the problem.

Then I would like to ask anyone who knows someone who has a mental disorder, to think just a little bit. This person may be a relative, a friend’s son or just someone. Perhaps it is too much to ask you to directly offer kindness to this person; but, what can you say and do for the person who loves and is living with a mentally ill person?

First thing you can do is find out as much as possible about the illness itself. We commonly make the mistake of lumping all mental disorders into one word: Madness. It cannot be that simple. As has been said, we all exhibit a measure of madness.

Mental disorders vary from Schizophrenia to Bipolar disorders and Dissociative Disorders. Each presents its own challenges. Being aware of the particular disorder can help you to be kind while being safe. There are so many things we can do to offer support to family members of mentally ill people. Mostly, all they need is a kind encouraging word.

Then again, knowing about these disorders can help us to actively encourage proper care for the ill ones. Remember, these people, though ill, are human nevertheless; and, they deserve dignity and respect and they thrive under loving care.

So now, I need to spend some time thinking about what I can do for Chris and his family.

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8 thoughts on “Loving the Mentally ill

  1. i love this post because i have a passion for psychology having suffered from depression since i was a teenager. just like you want to be a kindergatten teacher, my dreams are to one day be a psychologist/counsellor and writer. bwe have a long way to go in terms of treatment of people with mental/psychological disordersa nd diseases in kenya, mainly because of the stigma and lack of sufficiently trained people who care, but i know one day things will change and i hope to contribute to that.

    have you heard of the schizophrenia foudation of kenya. its a support group for people with schizophrenia, their families and loved ones.if they do not already attend, chris, and his family can atttend this support group.

    They meet every third Saturday of the month from 11.00 am at Schizophrenia foundation offices at Mutero PCEA Church in Karen and at Kenyatta National Hospital. The meetings provides a forum for families with mentally sick persons to interact and give each other moral support as a way of helping families to understand the illnesses and how to manage them. Other benefits of attending the meetings include obtaining education and support from people who understand major impact of mental illness on families such as health professionals. Contact person: The Executive Director, Schizophrenia Foundation of Kenya, P.O. Box 24698, KAREN, Nairobi, Tel No. 2020139/883842. Cellphone: 0727157575. Email: sfkanisa@yahoo.com

    thanks for your always mind challenging writing. keep it up

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  2. Thanks a bunch for posting information about where people can get help with dealing with mental illness.

    I find that the biggest problem is that people do not have enough information about mental illness, its diverse manifestations and the help that is available.

    When people know what ails them it is easier to deal with it. ‘Chris’ is doing great. I know he is still ill. But it is so much easier for both of us when we have more information.

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  3. Juliet, thank you so much for sharing your story, very touching sepecially for families who have/are gone/going through similar situations.Mwendwa thanks for the information; very helpful.
    How is Chris doing today?

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  4. Hi, Juliet…I have just come across this page by accident, and I must say that I am glad I did. I have currently finished my undergraduate studies in Psychology – Counselling, and I had the opportunity to do my practicum and Internship at Mathare hospital and Chiromo Lane Medical centre. I must admit that before I went there (Mathare first)I was like everyone else classifying mental illness as madness, but now I can say my perception has changed. I so loved interacting with the affected, they are so real it pains me soooooooo much when I see the injustice they face. I don’t have any friends with mental illness, but even as you write about the different ends of the spectrum that your friend goes through, I can so relate. I feel you when you say that there is alot that needs to be done when it comes to sensitization and awareness of mental illness…..my school project is about that. I wish I could meet you and your friend, and I so wish that we could do something about mental illness in Kenya – it is my passion, I can’t think of anything more fulfilling than that. Please send my regards to Chris, and tell him that all will be Ok. God bless

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  5. Hi juliet.Thanks for sharing your story.I would like to add that mentally ill people are also human like the rest of us.They need love and compassion.And their families also need moral support.Unfortunately this support systems are non existent in some areas.My heart goes out to all the families with a loved one who is mentally ill.I know how hard it is,how frustrated and alone you feel when your loved one is going through one of their episodes.
    I hope chris is doing fine today.

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  6. I honestly do not know how to respond to this other than pass my truly heartfelt sympathy to those who suffer from mental disorders. I have never encountered it first hand, but this reads like it is a painful task. Poleni.

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  7. Hi Juliet, thanks for sharing this story and i do hope that Chris is doing better now. This was quite an eye opener.

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