Editor's Comment

Give love to mental patients

THAT over 30 patients at Chainama Hills Hospital in Lusaka have been abandoned by their relatives for more than 11 years says a lot about how heartless some relatives can be.
Hospital public relations officer George Tafuna cannot be far from the truth when he says relatives shun their patients for fear of being laughed at, pointing to stigma associated with mental instability.
It is a tough situation because many factors can cause that. While stigma may be easily cited, the causes could be many. Some people think it is contagious.
The nature of the illness requires dedicated care and sacrifice.
These are patients who require grooming, care and hygiene which include bathing them, washing their faecal-contaminated clothings and beddings and feeding them.
They can also be violent. Relatives get tired of such and feel relieved when they dump such relatives at Chainama.
Mental health is a specialised programme which few health experts venture into, so for those that have the patience to take care of these patients deserve special commendation.
They become the relatives of abandoned patients and try the best they can to make their patients as comfortable as possible.
There are several reasons why such patients are abandoned, but whatever the reason, there is no justification.
Sometimes the responsibility of taking care of a mental patient is left to one or a few people while other members of the family keep their distance. This discourages the few family caregivers and these, too, could eventually abandon the patient. This is wrong.
In other instances, the patient could be abandoned because he or she causes social discomfort among family members. This, too, is wrong.
The abandonment of the patient could also be because the sole caregiver dies and other relatives refuse to take over the responsibility. This is another wrong.
Understandably, taking care of a mental patient can be stressful as it is demanding of one’s time and money. Raising funds for one to be able to take care of these patients who are hospitalised beyond say two months is financially and emotionally draining.
The trend is that within one month of admission, there is overwhelming sympathy from relatives, friends, church-mates and neighbours.
But the longer the person stays in hospital, the less the number of visits. Interactions drop and caregiving is reduced to a few friends or relatives.
The financial and time pressure on the caregivers increases as friends and relatives keep their distance. When this happens, relatives turn to Government for help. This is well and good, but Government can only do so much.
Most of the care should be rendered by friends and relatives. This care does not necessarily mean spending a lot of money. Rather it is the showing of love for the patients that matters the most in the recuperation process.
There is need to strengthen support systems at family, community and religious levels.
Families should start working together to care for their loved ones in need of care.
It would be beneficial for Government to also further empower the social welfare system so that it can take care of some of these problems. It must be emphasised again, however, that personalised care by a relative or friend can never be adequately substituted.
Another remedy is to dismantle psychiatric hospitals and instead establish homes within the communities like nursing homes, where mental patients will live with other people. The home environment is good for recuperation.
Rather than abandon the mental patients in hospitals, let’s keep them close to us. They need love more than ever before.

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