A Social Work case study from Tanzania of a child recovering from a mental health disorder.
It was a long way to the village where the child lives; I travelled for 2 hours and finally arrived. Geographically, because the area is above sea level, the place is very cold. I saw people wrapped up warmly because it was freezing that evening. The sun was shining but it was a cold ineffectual sun that could not remove the sharp coldness of the air. The people seemed to be moving slowly, and clung to each other due to cold weather. This is the place where the child has been living with his family.
As I made my way down to the house, from a little distance away the child saw me and he came running with a look of surprise on his face. He didn’t recognize me until I was close to him, and perhaps he had forgotten the other time I met him at the hospital. He smiled and greeted me in Swahili “Shikamoo, meaning Good evening uncle” I replied and seated myself on a chair.
The child’s past experience
I went to meet him for an interview, as he has now fully recovered and lives at home. This was my third trip to the child’s home in three consecutive years since he began taking psychotropic drugs for his illness. He is a 17 years old child who fell sick at the age of 12 with an unknown mental health ailment. Here is his story of what happened to him.
The child hardly tried to remember the cause of his illness. He narrated; “When I was 12, I started to get a headache accompanied by extreme shyness, and I couldn’t stand facing people. Whenever I met people, a voice kept telling me to run, I would quickly turn back and run away as though I saw a ghost. As time dragged by into weeks and months my condition escalated beyond control. I realized that a better place to live without contacting people was in the jungle.
Given my age, I did not fear anything; decidedly I went and stayed in the Jungle. Despite wild animals, rain and the coldness I felt safer staying in the jungle alone than anywhere else because no one would dare to come there. My disappearance caused havoc at the village; a team of local village militia was deployed to search for me, but they never succeeded. After a month the village halted the search and presumed I was dead”
Fortunately, one day he was spotted by an elderly person eating roots in the forest, this person remembered him and realized he was the child who went missing three years ago. He decided that it was important to create trust and confidence in the boy before rushing into taking him back to the village. He never told anybody in the village for fear that if people went there, they would not find him, as he would easily slip away deeper into the jungle if he saw them.
So, from time to time the elderly person talked to the boy and tried to persuade him to come along with him and go to the village, but these attempts always failed. The elderly person kept on bringing food to the child until his efforts paid off. He convinced him to go to the village with the promise that he would escort him back to the jungle. Eventually the boy agreed and went to the village.
But back at the village the child was captured and shackled to avoid escaping, and he was sent for local treatment to a nearby witchdoctor. He stayed there without success. He was taken to another witchdoctor where he stayed for 6 months, and his condition began improving slowly. At the end of this time he was discharged and was able to return and stay at home without trouble. I took the initiative to find him when I heard about his ordeal. I met him at village and suggested I take him to the district hospital for conventional treatment. In collaboration with family members he went to the hospital where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and treatment began at once.
Today at the age of 17 he has experienced a full recovery, and he is able to communicate that his sickness caused him a great deal of trouble. Soon after becoming ill, his family disintegrated. Some of them believed in evil spirits and that a curse had fallen on the family and so they decided to distance themselves from him. From thereon he wasn’t allowed to go to school or work. The local people despised him and showed him no respect.
Personal acknowledgement after illness
However, he has acknowledged that being able to recover from a mental disorder has counted much in his life. He can now sit together with people and is able to use reason to discuss different things, and he can now attend community rituals and burial ceremonies. He has begun productive work activities to make ends meet, and gradually the people from the village around him have become optimistic that he is fit to be involved in matters pertaining to their community. He commented to me:
“Being able to stabilise myself has differentiated me from my former person”. Formerly I used to live in the jungle with no external contact with my family, but since I am doing well, I can cooperate well with other people in many activities, and above all I want to re-united with all my family members.”
He also expressed a desire to pursue his education but sadly there wasn’t any person to depend on, who would be able to send him to school. He wished he could be financially supported to pursue his studies into the future.
Readers of the TCJ there are a lot of difficult and challenging things happening to children in the communities we live in; however our commitment to helping them should not be deterred by anything, we must take a courageous stance in assisting the most vulnerable ones. I wanted to share this story with you, and to acknowledge that working with limited resources is a widely understood problem
God bless you.
Thadei Kamisa, Social Worker
Pangani District of Tanzania.