My first encounter with mental illness


I had no idea what mental illness was all about until a few years ago when I received a call informing me that a close member of my family has been found wandering the streets of London.

When I got to the mental health hospital, my heart was pounding in my chest and the tears I was holding back just burst out uncontrollably as I spoke to the doctor prior to my meeting with my disturbed relative.

My family member was rather calm as I first met her there because she had been given medications to calm her down. And it was only gradually, that I would understand how affected she really was.

The funny thing is that, when entering the common room where all the patients will be staying during the day, you could hardly tell who were the patients and who were the caregivers as the nurses were not wearing any uniform. So, you will have a patient coming to you, telling you: “Hello, Mrs Glory, How are you today? Your relative is doing really great. If she carries on like this, she will be out of here in no time.” Imagine a mentally ill patient giving you a diagnosis on a fellow patient!

We were scared of keeping our relative in the hospital for too long as sometimes mentally ill people have trouble distinguishing between reality and fantasy. They can be abused easily and the abuser will get away with it as you never know if what the sick person is telling you really happened, or if it is a twisted thought in his/her head.

My sister had a friend who were briefly hospitalized in a mental health hospital when she was younger and who went on living a perfectly regular life after that episode, so that example was giving us a lot of hope. However, when told about what we were going through her advice was: “take your relative out of the hospital as soon as possible!”

That is what we did. But that was only possible because our family member was relatively calm and we were able to stay at her side 24/7. Some patients are too disturbed or suicidal to leave the hospital in a hurry and are better off in that professional environment for a while. And you need to have a strong support system in place because you cannot deal with a mentally ill person on your own, when in crisis, her/his strength is ten times yours!

I am so thankful that terrible crisis happened in the UK, as the NHS (National Health Service) took such great care of our relative. While at home with us, she will have two persons from an intervention team coming to check on her everyday for one hour, and then twice a week, for several months. Speaking with her, taking her out even sometimes. Then we will have regular consultations with the psychiatrist to adjust medications.

Medications, visits, consultations, hospitalization, everything was free, just due to the fact that my relative was residing in the UK. She is not a British citizen. Can you imagine being taken care of in that wonderful manner because of public health concerns of course, but also because you are a human being in need?

I want to emphasize the essential part played by medications here. No pastor, no native doctor, can replace a medical treatment. Of course, medications come with their side effects and all the chemicals you are putting in your body are not that good, but like everything in life, medications come with their harms and benefits. And from what I have experienced with my family member, I can say that,  in her case, medications benefits far outweighed their disadvantages. Some people will say that pills merely treat symptoms without getting at the bottom of the matter, but I can assure you that to see your loved one without the symptoms that are hindering her/his life is completely worth it.

I prayed, though, a lot. Prayer, and positive thoughts and love of course are key to the well being of the mentally ill person. But, with mental illness, you cannot do without the medications, in most cases. It goes hand in hand. Thanks to it, mental hospital is no more this horrible place with screaming patients in straitjackets. I am not a fan of the giant pharmaceutical companies which I know can be biased when it comes to making huge profits, but I have to acknowledge their tremendous contribution in alleviating the suffering of mentally ill people.

It was such a joy seeing my relative regain her consciousness, slowly but steadily. At the beginning, we will sit in a bench in a Mall and at our side, two young girls will be giggling, speaking about how one of the girls’ boyfriend has said this and how she has replied that, and my relative will ask me: “why are those girls speaking about me? Why is everybody speaking about me?” That is when I understood that in her particular case, the illness was keeping her away from the reality and preventing her from hearing what was actually being said.

And then the guilt comes: why is this happening? Not enough attention? Not enough love? Genetics? So many unanswered questions!

Fortunately, in less that a year, my family member was able to go back to her regular life and live on her own.

When confronted with a mental illness crisis, don’t hesitate to seek medical help!

What I mean to say is that mental illness is not shameful. It is a disease as any other disease, even if more spectacular sometimes, and like with many other illnesses, some will get better quickly, some will experience ups and downs, some will grapple with it all their life, some will die.

But in today’s world, we should not have to keep quiet about it.

I was inspired to write this post by those uplifting words by Oprah, in her article here.

2 thoughts on “My first encounter with mental illness

  1. This is a touching post. Glad your relative got well. I can’t say I’ve encountered mental illness on a personal basis but i feel like our country isnt doing enough for all those mentally ill persons I see neglected on the streets of Nairobi on a daily basis. I always have questions in my head, do they have family? Children? Spouses? Why isn’t anyone close to them bothered about their welfare?
    Just last week or last week but one, I saw this mentally ill woman sitting with her legs wide apart and screaming and I was immediately scared for her. I felt like she was very vulnerable to sexual abuse just from the way she sat. I totally agree with your sentiments that medication and familial as well as health support goes a long way in helping mentally ill persons.


    1. Thank you, Proudlyfeminist. The mentally ill people in our streets certainly had families. But without the proper information and available healthcare, it is difficult for some families to understand how to care for those persons and that is why you will see them roaming the streets in such a state. And I will not blame the families because it is more out of ignorance that they gave up on them. Even in Africa, medical help is available. But you need to go to the mental health hospital. You will have to spend some money and you will need to have a lot of time to dedicate to the affected person.


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