Africa was a beautiful, highly organised, and well-administered society within the purview of understanding our forefathers before the colonial masters came. We had the equivalent paraphernalia of the western model of administration with inbuilt mechanisms for order, security, education, parenting, matrimony, justice and social welfare. Despite the elitist rulership culture, there was a complementary cultural facility that guaranteed communalism with a deeply ingrained spirit of brotherhood. Anthropological studies of the kinship system have shown that our deep sense of communalism may invariably be a cultural export from Africa to the rest of the world especially Europe. Africans are warm and generous with a strong sense of fraternal brotherhood.
This is very evident in many of our cultural beliefs such as the prohibition of the mentally ill from entering the market place which in context connotes the public domain. It was a cultural administrative mechanism that ensured that the family took responsibility for the member who was mentally ill. The increase in the number of homeless mentally ill on our streets is a strong reflection of the disconnect between our imported western administrative strategies and our pre-colonial African policies. There is no reason to justify the reason for any individual with mental illness to roam the street on African soil because it is taboo. Funding for mental health programs from developed countries is quite rare and when available they are accessed with stringent conditions that do not connect with our cultural facility. Non-governmental initiative in mental health advocacy provides a window of opportunity for the re-invention of the African spirit of brotherhood and generosity.
Our communities should take ownership of strong mental health advocacy and emotional support programs in the African spirit of brotherhood for the family and patients. Such organizations provide the template for demanding humane treatment and better quality of life for patients through a network of sharing and caring that invariably provides a safe place to talk about fears since shared experience is a powerful bond. Those who receive help today will share their experiences with another family once their own situation stabilizes. These groups may be led by an experienced member who provides an atmosphere of trust and compassion and not necessarily by a mental health professional who may act in an advisory capacity. Our churches, mosques, religious organizations, township clubs, philanthropic clubs, and neighborhood associations could organise such self-help groups that can challenge stigma and discrimination in the community through education panels, conferences, health fairs, and dedicated rehabilitation programs. The goal is to replace ignorance with knowledge and thus increase acceptance of mentally ill people by the communities through practical demonstration. I hope to see our philanthropic efforts geared towards the treatment and rehabilitation of our homeless mentally ill. It is noteworthy that they are on the streets because of the financial constraints of their family and not because their sickness cannot be treated. The homeless mentally ill on our streets clearly reflects our collective poverty irrespective of how much wealth we parade.
I have not come across any dedicated mental health rehabilitation program sponsored by any of our multinational corporate organizations and indigenous philanthropists. Our political elites could design programs that are especially dedicated to the rehabilitation of our fellow kinsmen who are homeless as a consequence of mental illness. Most people with several mental illnesses lead lives of poverty because most employers of labor may not be keen on engaging their services. Housing, vocational training, education, employment, access to necessary health care, and the opportunity to participate in the service and systems charged with providing treatment are critical unmet needs for tens of thousands of our fellow brothers and sisters. These groups can be their voices to the government especially the state governments so that they can take adequate care of the mentally ill. We are still using a lunatic ordinance after 5decades of independence and I am not certain of a robust accommodation of the mentally ill in our national health insurance scheme since the treatment could be fairly long. Privileged parents of those who have suffered mental illness or who are themselves patients could be major stakeholders in this advocacy project. There is a registered national body of stakeholders of mental health care advocacy with representatives in all the geo-political zones of this country; the Mental Health Awareness Advocacy Foundation Of Nigeria is an umbrella body that is positioned to support any of these efforts in the direction of mental health care anywhere in Nigeria. For Interested groups, individuals, or corporate organisations; a simple mail could be written to my address; [email protected] such that necessary advisory and other ancillary professional support can be rendered. Let us reinvent the African spirit of brotherhood as we work together to cater to the mentally ill. We must also be equally aware of opportunists who are taking advantage of the fever of the moment to dupe and siphon funds from well-meaning individuals that desire to make a difference in the mental health situation of our communities.