While I was in one of the wards of the Sterkfontein Psychiatric hospital I met two very interesting patients. They had both been diagnosed with Schizophrenia and were both on medication and that’s where the tales of 2 cities began.
The first patient, lets call him Peter. White male in his mid 30’s, he was diagnosed 10 years ago after weeks of bizarre behavior. He was brought in by his family and Schizophreniform was the diagnosis made at the time and treatment was initiated. He responded well to the medication, his family participated in counseling and he is now an outpatient who just comes in for his scheduled check up. He seemed well groomed, euthymic and reactive (this is how you say normal in Psychiatry), however there was a sign or two of residual symptoms I was able to note but nothing alarming. Peter works for his family and lives what he calls a ‘relatively normal life‘.
The second patient, lets call him Tshepo; a black man, also in his mid 30’s. He was brought to the hospital by the police after he was involved in an altercation with a security guard. He’s convinced that the security guard had been following him and trying harm him for years and he was just defending himself. On further investigation, Tshepo tells you that he’s been living on the street for 8 years now. His family and community chased him away as his behavior, too, became bizarre. They believed that he was possessed by demons and would harm the people in the community. He spent years on his own moving between neighborhoods, where his symptoms worsen. The diagnosis of Schizophrenia was made upon admission and he’s had a poor response to medication, including Clozapine.
Risk factors, socioeconomic status and genetics asides. These two cases started off in an almost parallel universe to each other. Both man developed Schizophreniform in their mid 20’s, elicited bizarre behavior and eventually found their way to a hospital. There’s no telling that if Tshepo had been brought in sooner, he would have responded to medication better, or that he would, too, be an outpatient living a ‘relatively normal life.’ The sad part is that we will never know. I was saddened by his history but the inspiration to write only came after I made my way home that day to tell my family about my first day in Psychiatry and my very well educated sister asked me if black people also suffered from mental health, in her words “no, it’s a white people disease, isn’t it?”
Unfortunately that is the general perception in our black communities, mental health isn’t something that is accepted or even seek out. Parents hear that their children are performing poorly at school and start calling their them stupid or get frustrated with them. Never realizing that it could be because they have ADHD or an Adjustment disorder. We distance ourselves because of the stigma and ignorance we continue to perpetuate. I’m not disregarding cultural and religious belief, but I’m challenging every person reading this to find a way to bring awareness to our family, friends and community. Mental health doesn’t discriminate, it can affects anyone; any age, gender, sex, race or religious background.
How many people are roaming our streets everyday with undiagnosed Schizophrenia, Delusional disorders, Schizoaffective, or mood disorders with psychosis that we have separated ourselves from because we want to protect family names, the community’s dignity or refused to deal with the burden of the disease. It’s nobody’s fault and instead of rejecting mentally ill individuals and leaving them out on our streets where they may post a danger to themselves and to others, where they are vulnerable to mob attacks and other form of abuse, we should take them to hospitals and mental facility that specialize in aiding them, just a Peter received aid.
Let’s educate ourselves and let’s educate our people.