When a family member is mentally ill
With education, we can provide a better life for those affected by mental illness.
It is common to see people who are mentally ill or disabled not given the respect they deserve. We give them names like ‘igeza’, ‘ihlanya’, ‘uzincinci’, ‘setseno’ and many other names based on our respective languages.

Why we do this is beyond me.

I think that the families sometimes contribute because they themselves do not have adequate knowledge to deal with the person affected by the illness.

Besides the people we see on the side of the road eating from the bins, you will sometimes hear that families keep them chained inside the house because they are a nuisance and that is the only way to control them. They may allude to the fact that the mentally disabled family member gets lost and this is the only ways to protect them from danger.

Increase awareness on mental illness

I am sure with more awareness campaigns from government we can change how people view the mentally ill and disabled.

I can almost imagine how difficult it is especially in the rural areas because there are no special schools nearby nor money to support the person and even worse lack of knowledge. It is sad to hear that some families hide their handicapped children because of the shame and embarrassment.

Some marriages break because you will find a partner saying ‘asinawo amageza thina apha ekhaya’ (we do not have cases of mental illness in our family) as if the woman has brought shame into this family thus making it her fault.

Siblings are embarrassed to bring their friends over because of the different child – in that case I would blame the parents for not doing a proper job of orientating the child into the family because that child deserves acceptance and love no matter what the condition. I know of cases where siblings are very protective of someone affected by mental health problems and that is heart-warming.

Protect the vulnerable

It makes me sad to see that there are people, vultures who take advantage of these children. You hear in the news that mentally ill girls and women are raped because perpetrators know that they can get away with the hideous crime.

I have witnessed in some cases where affected people are used to do hard work like fetching water from the river, carrying wood and many other jobs. This is abuse because in return they get little or no money or even a plate of food. Really now, after working for hours on end all you get is a plate of food, is that fair?

The person has feelings but communities devalue them because of the mental illness and this needs to stop.

We need a change in how we view the mentally disabled, starting with how their families treat them. The children on the streets mock them and you find adults not seeing anything wrong with that. This is just not acceptable. With proper knowledge we can respond better to life’s challenges.

Read more by Masanda Peter

What should be done to improve the lives of those affected by mental illness and disability?

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