Last week I wrote an article on mental health in Fiji and it got me thinking, what were the factors that would prevent someone experiencing mental health difficulties to seek for help here in Fiji?
I visited St Giles Psychiatric Hospital in Suva which was under the supervision of the Psychiatric Survivors Association (PSA) and got a chance to talk to both the patients and the nurses. The patients were really happy to see visitors and mentioned that they did not get visitors often other than family on occasion.
Discussions about family and community reception once returning home from the hospital came up, some patients mentioned that they received a lot of stigma from their families as well as the community at large. Coming from St Giles meant that you must have gone mad and that was not a good thing to be associated with. Something else that was mentioned, was that mental illness was often seen as a curse on the family hence the stigma and alienation. Coming from Kenya, I could definitely relate to the issue of witchcraft and curses and the stigma it causes.
In Kenya, there is not a lot of awareness on matters pertaining to mental illness especially in the rural villages. People experiencing mental illness are more likely to visit a native doctor than a hospital…why? because mental illness is associated with witchcraft. It also makes it worse that Kenya is a country where medical services are expensive, so before someone decides to visit the hospital, they are literally on the verge of death.
Kenya is a country that deeply believes in native/witch doctors that they openly advertise their services on sign posts in the streets…like the one below ->
So you can imagine how many other issues apart from mental health that traditional remedies affect.
I think the major reason mental illness was seen as a curse in the olden days was because it was not something that could be explained, it’s not like a broken hand where the doctor can see it and treat it accordingly. It would have probably appeared as a radical change of behaviour and the only explanation they would have would be….’this has happened to you because your ancestors stole something or whatever the case was.’ Nowadays, more people are aware and educated on the matter but it still is not enough. I know in Kenya and certainly it would apply in Fiji as well, people would be educated on the matter but because of their deeply rooted traditional beliefs, deep down, they would still blame it on curses.
This article was a bit hard to write because I do not want people to think that I am putting down traditions. I am all for passing down traditions especially now that a lot of developing countries are becoming too westernized, but I feel like we should evaluate some of the traditions we are passing down. A lot of people, especially young people are suffering in silence and afraid to seek for help because of the labelling, the alienation the name calling e.t.c
I could type for days talking about stigma and how we can eradicate it but I think what we should change first as a society is the roots of the stigma, which is the continuance of negative traditional beliefs and practices. Doing this will not only cover mental health issues but other areas such as but not limited to; Views on disability, education for women, child marriages and female genital mutilation.
That’s all from me today, tell me your thoughts
Honestly speaking my mind…Asali Mukii xx