“You’ve gone mental.” That statement used to refer to only one thing-someone who had gone mad.
Melisa Cheche, a Bamenda- based insurance adviser grew up with exactly that understanding. And often, she would consider anyone with mental disorders as having been possessed by some evil spirit or suffering from some kind of family curse. But recently, her understanding of the concept of mental health has changed significantly. She was one of 92 participants at a recent online training on the theme “Understanding Mental Health” organized by the Association for Mental Health Awareness and Care Cameroon, AMEHACC headquartered in Limbe,
“I had a great experience from this first training session. At first, I knew when they talk of mental health problems, it was only referred to mad people, but now I know better,” she said.
Nyuykighan Sikem Yvette, a Cameroonian based in South Africa who also took part in the training said it helped her gain better insight into what mental health really means.
“…growing up, I understood that if the word “mental” is mentioned and a name comes up, it means the person is mad,” she recalls.
“I learned a lot and that ideology is erased from my mind. I also realized that, so much has been going on in my life and I didn’t realize it was a mental health concern”.
She says she now understands “the different approaches to use when tackling mental health issues and is ready to seek professional help should the need arise”.
The executive Director of AMEHACC, Kindzeka Ethel says her organization has been carrying out mental health awareness to the general public and providing the necessary care to those affected, and who “summon the courage” to speak up and get help regardless of the stigma and “what will people say syndrome” they initially feared.” According to her they also “do referrals to appropriate institutions for professional mental health care and psychosocial support”.
“Conversations around mental health used to be a taboo in these parts but with the growing recognition and appreciation for the importance of youth mental health, we are glad to be part of this revolution,” Kindzeka told Timescape Magazine.
Using social media channels like Facebook, WhatsApp, Google Meet and Zoom, Kindzeka and her team have been able to reach out to almost 1000 people and they now have a good understanding of what mental health is all about. That is how Jane got a breakthrough. She had been suffering from Schizophrenia for years. Schizophrenia is a serious brain disorder that causes people to interpret reality abnormally. They don’t know what sights, sounds, and experiences are real or what they are imagining.
Jane’s liberation, however, came when she read a post on AMEHACC’s Facebook page which urged anyone who needed psychological or psychiatric help to seek one because we only live once. With Kindzeka’s help, she was admitted at Minds Center, a Buea based mental home.
“…that’s where I was admitted and taken care of for two months and two weeks,” she recalls. She still takes her treatment and goes through counseling sessions, but her condition has significantly improved.
Kindzeka’s fight for mental health care is also born out of a personal tragedy. Growing up as a brilliant student, she never thought anything could stand on the way of her academic achievements. But just when she was gearing up to be awarded her Masters’ Degree from the University of Yaounde 1, it dawned on her that through no fault of hers, she was going to repeat a course she had validated at the bachelor’s degree level. She had to pay tuition fee for a second time, and then lose a whole school year.
“It was a very tough time for me. My master’s journey became a lost course. I thought of terrible things. I started taking alcohol. I couldn’t sleep; I was stressed out and went into depression,” she recalls. Thank God for my ever-supporting family and the little innate resilience I managed to draw from, I accepted my fate, faced my fears, and thrived,” She added.
She now says her commitment is to help other people cope with such situations. “That is why this year we have decided to launch the back-to-school mental health awareness campaign which will run in September every year to prepare young people’s minds to cope and thrive amidst difficulties in the school communities.”
“We will be creating mental health clubs in schools and will organize competitions in schools to select student mental health ambassadors”.