Mopping Up Mental Health

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.

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Mental Health Detective

Hello Dear Friends and Blogging Community – I am writing this as I am about to undertake – well in the next few days – a DANGEROUS pursuit.  It will be filled with ups and downs.  Highs and lows.  I will need to wait.  I will need to move up a seat or hardwood bench in a too cold room, for far, far too long.  I will confront enemies, perhaps a friend or two, and I may need to come back, again, and again.  And I will feel like giving up.  Feeling like I can’t crawl to the bitter end.   Yes, my dear friends, I am going to go for my mental health treatment in the PUBLIC SECTOR.  I am going to subjecting me and my very fragile self to the primary healthcare system in a country probs with developing country status in any and all mental health related service and I am AFRAID.

Now you might say, what on earth is she going on about?  That’s no problem?  The biggest majority of people with mental illness go through the public health system.  And my answer is NOT BY CHOICE.  I had private healthcare, but I worked my butt off to have it.  And not just for me, but for my children too/   I paid for a psychiatric hospital that had clever lighting, placed quotes etc to not demonstrate that you are like I dunno, hospitalised.  The public health system in my country, is BLATANT about the fact that you are NOT ok, and they WILL openly stigmatise through something as simple as the appointment system.  For example there is “psychiatric day” i.e. the people on  that day, you want to avoid, draw air spirals around your ear in front of the patient to describe to co-workers what they have, mad day.  The other way is putting the mentally ill in the “green sticker” line which ensures “confidentiality”.  For no-one.  Because all the patients who go to the clinic know what the sticker colour means or you will end up getting a good dose of anti-retrovirals for your Bipolar.

I have decided that I will go to to the first appointment armed with things will assist: my mother so she can keep my space in the line (and perhaps people will think I’ve brought her instead of the alternative) while I go and smoke, snacks, a book and cellphone data so I can imaginery bullet journal and get lost in beautiful stationery on psychiatric day.  I will report back on the experience of being in the green sticker line.  And what mental health has been like for people with mental illness in my country who are a lot more in need than me.  And hopefully in so doing, I can make a suggestion or two about the colour they gave us.  I’ve never looked good in green.  Mentally Ill I can do.  Be part of those who support us as opposed to those who don’t.  I am 4 M’s Bipolar Mom.