Rwandans have been urged to end the discrimination and stigma against persons with mental illness, but rather help them to have access to medical support because it was proven that most victims go on to live a normal life once they get the right treatment.
The call was made Saturday in Nyagatare District during the celebration of the World Mental Health Day organised by the Ministry of Health, through Rwanda Biomedical Centre.
The day was marked at Nyarurema Health Centre, with a cooperative of over 200 former victims of mental illness that was established to bring together members help one another.
The cooperative calls itself ‘Twite Ku Buzima Bwacu’.
Eulalie Kwizera, a 20-year old Nyagatare resident, suffered from psychosis, a severe mental disorder in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality.
The illness attacked her when she was 16 and in high school.
“I was lucky to have a caring family. They immediately took me to Ndera (Neuro-Psychiatric) Hospital where I spent about six months and was only sent back home when I got better,” she said.
She added that after taking all the drugs given to her as prescribed, it has since been three years and she has never had any relapse.
Kwizera has since secured a job as a tailor.
“After I underwent treatment, I went back to school but it didn’t go well. No one wanted to talk to me or approach me. Sometimes when I entered the classroom some classmates would go out saying they wouldn’t associate themselves with a ‘mad person’,” she said.
According to her, that stigma made her drop out of school and went to pursue vocational education in tailoring and she now says her life is back on the right footing.
Her message to parents and the youth is to understand that mental illness can affect anyone, adding that instead of stigmatising, victims they should be helped to get proper medical attention.
According to Brother Charles Nkubili, the Director of Ndera Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital (Caraes-Ndera), basing on the number of people they get with different types of mental illnesses, the problem is real and must get due attention.
“Last year alone, we received 62,551 cases and every year it remains in that range. As you can see this is a big number and most cases involve top three mental illnesses, including psychosis, epilepsy and bipolar disorders,” he said.
Nkubili noted that though some conditions can be cured in case of early diagnosis, others are chronic and may require long term treatment and patients are prone to relapse when they get back into the community and do not get appropriate follow up.
“Mental health medication needs to be accompanied with good care. Patients should also be shielded from stressful situations. When patients don’t get this they will most likely experience a relapse.
“They therefore need a supportive family and community in general. They should be protected from any stigma and discrimination of all types. At the end of the day mental illness is a normal condition as any other type of illness,” he said.
Dr Anne Marie Bamukunde, a senior mental health officer in the Mental Health Division of RBC, said that, currently, there is no available concrete data on people with mental illnesses, but there is an ongoing nationwide survey to ascertain the status of mental illness in the country and the findings will be available not later than December.
Bamukunde also advised people to guard against mental illness risk factors, including exposure to stressful life situations, use of alcohol or recreational drugs, unhealthy relationships, family conflicts, child neglect and abuse among others.