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SHE CALLED MY NAME - A Story about Mental Health Stigma

A woman was once my neighbor. Loud mouthed one oh.

Her passion it seemed was talking and putting her mouth into other people's business. Ahhhhhh the woman could taaaallllllkkkk. Shushushu, shushushu everywhere and on top everybody matter. To complement her passion, her major hobby was disturbing gentle human beings like me with her pranks. If I hear anyhow laugh there! Who is not gentle? If I say I am gentle, then I am gentle. Datsall.

Everybody has their own oga. My neighbour was one of my own ogas then. Could frustrate my life without much effort. To start with, her pet name for me was Psycho doctor. Anytime she sees me particularly in public or with strangers, she would start shouting:

“Psycho-doctor, Psycho-doctor. How are you and your psycho patients?”

The way she will shout it sef, so loud like King Kong’s booming voice. What exactly was the meaning of Psycho-doctor- Was it that she meant I was psychotic myself or that I work in a Psychiatric facility? I could never fathom. All I know was that I used to feel somewhat ridiculed. It was always a deliberate attempt at negativity and who wants that? Not me.

Whatever my response was to her greeting, madam Mocker, wicked woman of the tribe of Cinderella’s stepmother will now laugh her wicked laughter – The audience of this her greeting will now be looking at me one kind or join in the mockery debacle. A whole me being bullied. I corrected her once or twice but just left her alone when her stubborn head did not allow her to understand that by stigmatising me, she was actually making fun of some other people’s pain and struggle. People with whatever form of mental illness don’t wish themselves to be ill. Bad enough that they often go through significant distress; have to summon the courage to come for treatment; spend money, time and other resources; lose family and friends to the illness and may never recover their initial quality of life. Mental illness is a life changing illness. No one should mock those who have it. It’s just not right. Not humane at all.

Anyway, what did I do about this my situation? Of course, I avoided her. if something consistently makes you feel bad, better flee from it.

So some nine years later, madam Loudmouth comes to a clinic. Different town; different setting. I am sure she never imagined she would see me there.

As soon as she saw me, she opened her mouth- "Heeeyyyyyy, Psycho doct".......... She couldn’t complete it. Maintaining all cordiality, I welcomed her into the consultation room. She was there with her first son. The boy had suffered some complications at birth and now at 16years old, he had been having features of a psychotic disorder for 2years. Hardly had she sat down, the tears began. It took several minutes to calm down the flow. She kept repeating “ I didn’tknow you were the one. I didnt know you were the doctor. I have come to see Psycho- doctor......” I wished honestly that she had met someone else. It would have been easier for her. I even asked if another person should see her but she said it didn’t matter. Reality is truly like downpour on a sunny day. Catches you unawares.

Going through the interview, it was obvious my former neighbor had gone through a lot during the course of the boy’s illness. Her other children were feeling neglected, her business was not well monitored and her marriage was failing because the husband wasn’t supportive. A really, really stressful period for her as with most mothers of children with mental health problems. Her pain was palpable and touching.

A mother’s pain; who can bear it?

How can this be worth any mockery? This is what people make fun of when they snicker about mentally ill people. This was what this same woman joked about in the past. Should I say nemesis caught up with her? No. How can illness ever be nemesis? Not if you have seen someone who has been burned by the fire of illness, you won’t ever say that or think it.

As this woman was leaving my office that day, she turned back and for the first time, she called me by my name: “Folake, thank you.” Music to my ears. Madam Normal-mouth called my name. My name, the sound of acceptance. Reward for what I do.

One in every five people are likely to be affected by mental illness during their lifetime. Although there are known risk factors, we can never predict those that will eventually develop the disorders and the magnitude of impact it will have on individuals’ lives. There are effective treatments for the management of mental illness but much support is required to help their stability.

A Yoruba proverb says “ the one who is not dead does not know the type of death that awaits him/her.”

No one is immune to mental illness except the dead and unborn.

Whenever you are tempted to mock or stigmatize those suffering from mental illness, please remember that you have been born but you aren’t dead yet.

Dr. Folake OGUNDELE Consultant Psychiatrist #flakkysvoice #MentalHealthAdvocate

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