Spotlight on mental healthcare

EVEN before writing about the scourge of mental illness last Saturday I knew the feedback would be heart-rending.

Reading the incoming emails and listening to stories of personal experiences has been far more distressing than imagined and some stories have haunted my sleep.

“What some people experience is like a nightmare they never wake from, a battle to stay afloat in a sea of black porridge, an anchor that weighs down their bodies and souls, a flood of negative emotions that swamp their very being,” one correspondent wrote.

“Medications can only assist to various degrees, therapy can help, counselling, meditation, talking to someone ... is so important.

“Not being ridiculed or made to feel like an illegal homicidal maniac... (and not) someone to be avoided, feared and dismissed as a worthless human being.”

People making contact came from all walks and stations in life.

There was a former high-ranking government mandarin, serving professionals, carers – including one suffering greatly as he watched a brother being swallowed up by ‘the system’ – and just ordinary people who for some unfortunate reason have been caught up in the game of chance that life can turn out to be.

There was even a lengthy nationalist rant about refugees, the sort of which has become almost obligatory with every mail bag these days.

But another person wrote: “The stigma around social status and the mentally ill really needs to be stripped away ...finally making room for mental illness of all kinds, to step out from behind the shadows and into the open light of our society.”

And therein lies the most tragic part of the problem.

Once it is out of the shadows, how do you keep mental illness in the spotlight until somebody who can make a difference decides the epidemic is so bad and growing from so many quarters, it has to be decisively tackled head on?

With the loss in real terms of 22,000 hospital beds since 1976, who’s holding their breath?

These few lines today to keep the flame burning seem so inadequate unless somebody’s there tomorrow to keep the issue alive.

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