In most African countries – the Gambia included – one sees people who are mentally challenged walk around the streets in very horrible conditions. Sometimes, one sees these people being treated in an inhumane manner which is unfortunate. These people are sick and deserve some empathy from everyone.
Mental illness is not a choice. No one chooses to be sick either physically or mentally. When our folks are sick, physically, we make every effort to take them to the hospital and give every support to ensure they are nursed back to health and thus they return home and continue living with us in our homes.
Why should mentally ill patients be treated differently? This is a medical condition like any other and as such should be treated in a similar manner and that they should be shown the same level of empathy as what we show our physically ill relatives.
On this front though, government also have a huge role to play. Firstly, government should endeavor to make sure that we have enough psychiatric hospitals to cater for the population of the mentally challenged members of society. This is a fundamental right which they should also enjoy just like others in the country.
Secondly, just like the efforts we make to ensure that there are enough medical doctors in our hospitals, we should endeavor to train as many psychiatric doctors as possible so that the psychiatric hospitals will have competent people to man them.
But the bottom line is that we must seek to identify the root cause of the many cases of mental illness and try to resolve them so as to reduce the number, if not eradicate it completely. The economic conditions of many people result in them having stress, trauma and ultimately mental challenges. Government must seek to engage the youth to ensure that they have job opportunities and an environment to work and make a living.
This will reduce the number of people who battle mental illness. The inevitable few who will still battle it should be treated humanely in psychiatric hospitals and helped to make their lives bearable.