Tracey, 43, clearly remembers the events five years ago that led to her institutionalisation in a psychiatric hospital in the UK.
She had been feeling off and had started hearing voices resulting in her going out to roam the streets. She had walked for a whole day and night and spat endlessly. It was while she was roaming that police found her.
“They picked me up and took me to the station,” Tracey, a Tanzanian, says.
At the police station, they realised she was ill and called in a doctor.
“I don’t remember what injection I was given, but the doctor gave me one and I was soon on my way to Linfield Mountain hospital,” Tracey says.
She was to spend three months at the hospital.
“I started feeling better after three months of treatment and was allowed to go out of the hospital, accompanied by a social worker, for refreshing walks,” Tracey says.
Eventually, she was discharged and she decided to return home, in Tanzania. Tracey was not fully recovered when she returned home and her sister and caretaker, Maria, recalls that she was fearful or paranoid and hallucinated.
“She was very scared of everyone and everything,” Maria says. “She would see headless people talking to her and she would also have bad dreams.”
The bad dreams often culminated in Tracey waking up screaming, so Maria started sleeping with her.
“I would hug and soothe her when she had the bad dreams,” Maria says.
This all happened while Tracey was on medication she had found a “good and responsible” psychiatrist at Muhimbili national hospital, who was treating her. As time went by, Tracey normalised so much that she enrolled in a tertiary institution last year, and graduating with a certificate in Food and Beverages.
Tracey will not strike you as a schizophrenic. We met in Dar es Salaam over last year’s Christmas holiday. She is beautiful and stylish, jolly and bubbly, and courteous. She also works in a reputable establishment, has friends in high places and manages her life rather efficiently.
In addition, she makes friends easily, is optimistic, forward-looking and confident. In case you are unaware of the characteristics of schizophrenics, Butabika hospital’s executive director, Dr David Basangwa describes them: “They may make unintelligible conversation and may be paranoid, making it difficult for them to make friends.”
They are also delusional, often having grandiose ideas about themselves, suffer hallucinations (hearing voices and seeing things that are not there) and are uninterested in maintaining good personal hygiene. They may also dress unconventionally you must have seen those rag-wearing, garbage-lugging mentally-ill people on the streets.
Tracey, with her bubbly nature and stylish clothes does not cut the look of a schizophrenic, therefore. She attributes her wellness to the treatment she received and still uses she takes medicine once a day.
She is testament to the fact that schizophrenics, when treated, can “recover” and live happy, functional lives again. Dr Basangwa says many Ugandan schizophrenics have been treated and are leading functional lives.
“We met at such short notice but I would have brought you patients, who are doing very well, to interview,” Basangwa said.
Some of the patients Dr Basangwa talks about can be seen attending Butabika’s outpatient clinic.
Dr Basangwa calls for early treatment as this could mean better treatment outcomes see a doctor first as opposed to first seeking a witch-doctor’s services. Tracey says that recovered schizophrenics “should never stop taking their medication, should go on to live normal lives by [say] seeking employment and that family members and the patients should pray.”
Maria says that though it is tough to look after schizophrenics, family members and caretakers should persevere, treating patients with “love and affection.”
Monday was World Mental Health day we toast to better mental heath awareness, treatment and reduced stigma.
Source : The Observer