I went to the clinic on Friday. Quite cheerful I was when I arrived there and ready to get things DID. I shuffled past the HIV and AIDS Section. The Reproductive Health Section with many blushing teenagers and finally turned the corner at the clinic to head to the mental health “corner”. I paused briefly to think that the signage is intended to be functional, it screamingly communicates and impacts on the people waiting so much more. What would you say if a friend passes you by in the HIV queue? Hi, I’m here for a fun check? Blushes and shuffles feet? Anyways, almost fittingly, the mental health section is in the most inconvenient area that is too small to seat the large number of people who require a service on mental health Friday’s. Yes. On Fridays, when the psychiatrist graces the mentally ill with his or her presence and the nurse (no mental health specialisation) who are at their most tired, open the clinic to the mad, crazy and otherwise, on condition that you are prepared to queue from 4 in the morning outside.
As I lodged myself into the long queue, with an approximate waiting time of two hours for two people (not exaggerating), we all waited anxiously, knowing that although you were at a health centre, and could have braved massive odds to get there, there was no guarantee that you would actually receive the service you required regardless of how serious your ailment is or what you’d come for. In my hard-won um, experience, I have learnt that the South African Health System is more adept at turning people away than it is at servicing people who need it the most. As an example, I had a close friend with mental illness tell me that when they were suicidal and reported to a hospital, they were told to come back when they had more serious symptoms. I’m sorry did I miss something here? A symptom of suicide? Well.
I had come for a meds refill. Not that hard. I had a script, a detailed psychiatric history and referral letter from my resident psychiatrist. So you could say I was capacitated to come and that the paper could speak for me because you know, someone with mental health anything is NOT able to do that. Like we may have years of experience of living and coping with our disorders, but cannot describe our symptoms unless a psychiatrist decodes the language we apparently speak. center Symptom of suicide indeed.
I no longer know what it will take to draw attention to the needs of the mentally ill in our families and communities in Africa because I have it unfortunately on great authority that we are fully and fundamentally being failed. We should not be turned away, or have it suggested that we actively go home and allow our mental health to deteriorate. Because we matter. Our families matter. Our communities matter. And research/statistics in our country and the world says that mental health issues are undetected, and ravaging communities. So perhaps, mental health services need to be primed to helping people not making them sicker? In the meantime, whilst I mull this over, I am going to take that cleaner’s bucket which became so intimately acquainted with the tender flesh on my knees during the time I should not have waited, and I’m going to mop clean at the local clinic. Be part of those who support us as opposed to those who don’t. I am 4 M’s Bipolar Mom.Become a Patron!