Primarily, Tanka is a place that offers treatment to people who are mentally ill. It is financed by the Government of The Gambia and the patients are either taken there by their relatives, their friends or the police. The hospital is fortified by a solid tall fence and security personnel guard the gate. Health, security, culinary and other ancillary staff toil and moil on a daily basis to ensure the patients are taken care of as expected. A common cause of their condition is long-term drug use, but in some cases mental illness runs in the family. My impression is that stress could also cause it as well as the use of black means. Concerning the issue of black means, according to the hospital matron, Mr Baba Manneh, there may be some truth in it but they try as much as possible to prevent patients from having that notion. They do not use any traditional means to treat the patients but resort to the medical way of treatment which yields gratifying results.
Prior to my first visit to Tanka, the expectations I had were far different from what I found on the ground. I had expected that a mentally ill person would not even remember his or her name. They must be people who are very lethargic and could not simply tell where they are. Yes this what I thought. To my amazement, I came to realise that some of the patients can even read from memory some very touching and stimulating parts of either the Bible or Qur’an. They can exchange brilliant ideas and can even explain vividly some of the things that they were doing prior to their sickness. I have no doubt that some people have a concept similar to mine regarding mental instability. It is very interesting to discover that this misconception is absolutely wrong. I have learned that some of the patients do befriend one another. I could not help looking and getting closer to the patients to find out how they do that and the type of discussion they have among themselves. One patient told me he does that because he felt that he is sick and needs a friend who can advise him and share ideas with him in order not to be lonely because loneliness can increase his depression. I found this quite interesting and it reminds me of the saying no man is an island, no man stands alone. I think this is gospel truth. A single tree cannot make a forest. Whatever one may be, one needs an adviser. One needs people around you because two good heads are better than one.
Tanka could be called a cosmopolitan centre. Different nationals are found there; the young and old, male and female, black and white. They are treated equally irrespective of nationality, race, religion, gender etc. The intervention of the government, the relationships between the staff and the patients for the welfare of the patients, is indeed exemplary. Trained volunteers from the University of The Gambia like myself under the leadership of our able UTG lecturer Dr Stephen Ney and the supervision of the acting chief matron Mr Baba Manneh are playing a pivotal role as far as caring for mental patients is concerned. We visit the hospital fortnightly and engage both the patients and some staff who have leisure time in activities like football, drawing, painting and a lot of other interesting things that we hope can help bring comfort, hope, and stability to the patients.
The importance of caring for mental patients with considerations based on humanitarian grounds cannot be overemphasised. God created human beings and placed them above all things on earth thus giving them respect. It would be more than ridiculous then for human beings not to respect one another. Whatever the condition of a human being is, I feel there is need to respect the person, which I am afraid is not observed in many societies today. The late South African reggae singer, Lucky Dube, in his album Respect, says “Respect me for not who I am but what I am”. The meaning I could deduce from this is that he is a human being and therefore deserves to be respected. It is reciprocal and until and unless we observe this truism with a sense of simplicity, tolerance and decorum, our integrity as humans will be of no value.
Buba Mendy is a first year student at the University of The Gambia, Faculty of Education.
By Buba Manneh]]>