When mental conditions are misunderstood

Joyce Jenje Makwenda Inside Out
PEOPLE with certain mental conditions have found it very difficult to fit in their families, or communities because of how they are misunderstood.

This is because it is also difficult for those around them as they have to be educated about these conditions. Some of the conditions are Bi Polar Disorder (BPD), Dyslexia, Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Postnatal Depression (PD), and more have seen people who have these conditions being given all sorts of names. Society seems not to understand these mental conditions and associate them with a lot of things, yet if they are given attention these conditions can be managed. It is also through denial that they end up getting worse and uncontainable.

People with Bi Polar Disorder are seen as cruel people because they have hurt those around them badly. A woman celebrity in Zimbabwe confessed on how she had hurt those around her, because of not having much information about this condition, it was only when it was diagnosed that she realised that she was not herself. When she was put on medication and therapy, she became a better person and those around her were counselled on the condition and how it needed to be managed.

Dyslexia is a deadly invisible learning disability, and if it goes unchecked as the child grows up, he or she can end up being crippled. Unlike some other forms of disabilities which are visible, like; blindness, deafness and so on, dyslexia is an invisible disability, which makes it difficult to deal with. Children who have dyslexia are said to be “dull” (madofo).

They are not dull kids but they end up being dull and looking dull because of how society treats them. They lose their self-esteem; if it is not checked. If the condition is carried to adulthood it can become really deadly, as one would try to conceal it and sometimes fail, which can cause anxiety that can lead to all sorts of negativities. If time is invested in dyslexic children, their talents can come out and what they are supposed to do in their life. Someone who had this condition and did not understand it was bitter, as she was told by a prophet that her younger mother took all her brains and gave them to her younger sister who was a straight A student. It is only recently when it was explained to her that she had dyslexia.

When I wrote the article on Dyslexia some years ago, a man wrote to me and said that actually dyslexia is a gift if it is handled well. Some of the people with dyslexia who have done very well in life are — Danny Glover, John Lennon, Whoopi Goldberg, William Hewlett, Sir Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Steven Spielberg and many others.

Children who suffer from ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) are labelled naughty and lacking manners. ADHD is common in children and teens. But adults also can have ADHD. With ADHD in adults, there may be some variation in symptoms. For instance, an adult may experience restlessness instead of hyperactivity. In addition, adults with ADHD consistently have problems with interpersonal relationships and employment. (ADHD Centre).

Another mental condition that is very much misunderstood is Postnatal Depression (PD). Postnatal Depression is suffered by a mother following childbirth, typically arising from the combination of hormonal changes, psychological adjustment to motherhood and fatigue.

A friend had to raise her sister’s child as the sister did not want to touch her child and did not even want to have anything to do with her, because of Postnatal Disorder (PD). It was only when the baby was four that she started wanting to be closer to her. When a woman is affected by this condition she will be in her own world where she does not see this child as part of her, she is disconnected from the child, instead of being happy that she has brought a child into the world she wants to be away from the child.

If the mother is forced to be close to the child without proper steps being taken, this will make the mother resent the child even more. This condition needs to be handled carefully, as it can deteriorate into something else as some mothers have killed their own children and killed themselves.

Sarudzayi who suffered from PD when she had her fourth child said that people should start taking this condition seriously and not to look at it as baby blues, because it can worsen. Sarudzayi who has gone on to study this condition explained that it affects 1 woman in 10 and it can happen soon after birth or within 1 year of giving birth. Some of the symptoms are being moody, tearful or anxious.

One woman said it started when she was pregnant, but it was her first pregnancy so she did not know what was really taking place, she felt depressed.

When she gave birth she could not connect with her son. She was having problems with sleep, poor concentration, being agitated and withdrawing from people.

Luckily, she has a very supportive husband who took care of the child and her husband’s family and her family understood this problem and they came together to help her. She went to psychiatrists, psychologists and all sorts of therapy, but she says it was family support which pulled her through. She would like more resources to be invested in PD and other mental illnesses. She is appealing to the Government and medical aid associations to invest in mental health.

Ambuya Ndoro said this condition (PD) has always been there, but now it is being worsened by the structures of today’s family that have not much support system for the mother which then creates other problems that make it difficult to manage PD. The African traditional set up made it easier for a mother to raise her child as she would be surrounded by many people who would help her with the child so the condition lay dormant, it was not seen. This support system is still needed today.

Women who suffer from Postnatal Depression have been given all sorts of names in our today’s African society. Some of them have been labelled witches, yet it is a condition that has to be dealt with.

A woman who had this condition when she gave birth to her third child said she did not want to be anywhere near her baby, but she was forced to love and hold the child, she would want to throw the child down; she acted violently. She would cry and wanted to bite the child. The husband and his relatives discussed this issue and they concluded that she was a witch who wanted to eat her son. A delegation was sent to her home to ask her parents why their daughter wanted to eat her child (mwana wenyu arikuda kudya mwana chiyi). Eating a human being is associated with witchcraft.

The woman’s parents were not happy because they saw this as a way of saying their daughter was a witch. The parents decided to take back their child and with the help of a friend who had had a similar problem, they were advised not to force her to be with the child and seek professional help. The parents and her relatives helped with the baby and she got professional help.

Her son is grown up now and she had to tell him what happened before other people told him, and she said it was the most difficult part,s0 but it was facilitated by a therapist. She advices women to seek professional help if they have this condition (PD) and families and institutions to support women with this condition.

All mental conditions need understanding and support from family and national institutions involved in mental health.

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