Over the last few weeks, I’ve had conversations with relatives of people with mental illness who had given up.
You read that right. They had brought their ill loved ones to the hospital, but had given up on any real hope of their recovery. These were people who had been ill for anything from six months to six years. They had all been out of work, unable to hold down relationships and marriages, and seemingly stuck in a vicious circle of illness and partial recovery. As far as the relatives were concerned, they had only come to get help for the present crises—they would be quite satisfied with to have them back home free of embarrassing behaviour, even if they’re not quite functional. As far as they know, that would have been a pretty good outcome, all things considered.
And you know what? These people are typical of what happens in families affected by mental illness around here.
You see people whose children don’t even want to hear their name, because they’ve been ill for so long it’s embarrassing. You hear of people getting locked up for weeks because their families are at a loss for how to cope with the embarrassment. Most people do the rounds of various spiritual homes and “treatments” with minimal results, if at all. (I’ve even heard of relatives being told that any improvement would not be apparent to them, but the person was actually getting better! Seriously?!)
If all of that feels messed up to you, great. Because it should. It’s truly messed up. But you know what? You can’t blame most families dealing with mental illness, mostly.
The reason is simple: they typically are at a loss themselves. Which is the double tragedy of this thing: not only do people with mental disorders often not know what’s happening to them, their relatives don’t either. And I’m not just talking about among the uneducated, or in lower social classes: a lot of educated, even upper social class-type people don’t get it. Heck, even non-psychiatric doctors don’t always get mental illness.
So how do you hold people responsible for what they don’t know?
But you know the biggest reason why this is all so tragic? It’s tragic because the whole waste of human lives is totally preventable. The real tragedy in it all is that even though recovery in mental illness is a very real possibility, many don’t get to experience it.
Because you can’t achieve what you don’t know is possible.
And this is the drive behind “Rise Above It.” Because, even here in Nigeria, in spite of all the constraints we are so familiar with, there’s too much that can be done, too many available resources, for things to remain this terrible. But it begins with knowing what is possible.
Recovery is real.
P.S. I’d like to know: have you ever heard anything like this before about mental illness? Or, now you’ve heard it, do you still find it difficult to believe? I’d really like to hear from you. Hit me up in the comments, will you?