By working with communities we aim to educate people about mental illnesses so that stigma is reduced. This helps people understand that mentally ill people can achieve a normal life and that mental illnesses are treatable.
We also help them understand the problems that mentally ill people and their carers face. Working together as a community helps them find solutions to these problems.
Community-wide meetings and consultations are the main ways that stigma is broken down. These meetings are powerful events and can have a dramatic impact on the lives of mentally ill people.
In remote Tanzania, a man called Adam was renowned throughout the local area for living in the jungle: foraging for food, unwashed and unkempt. 20 years earlier his family had forced Adam out of his own home when he started to act strangely. With no one to turn to, he had ended up living like an animal for the past two decades.
His community knew he was there; children regularly taunted him and threw stones, most people just ignored him. People did not understand that Adam’s behaviour was due to an illness, and what’s more, an illness that is treatable.
That was until BasicNeeds came to Adam’s community and held a session on mental illnesses, how they were easily treatable and why not to stigmatise mentally ill people.
Suddenly, councillor Ngugu, a local leader, realised that the strange man who lived in the jungle (who he had shown occasional acts of kindness to by leaving food) must have a mental illness.
Cllr Ngugu immediately jumped on his bike and pedalled at speed to find Adam. When he found Adam he invited him to live with him and told him that he was going to receive treatment.
Bringing him home, Adam was washed and cleaned. He was so badly neglected he had grass growing out of mud knotted in his hair. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and received treatment.
The change has been remarkable. He is now quiet and stable. He is still living at Ngugu’s home but he meets regularly with his own family who are slowly starting to take him back into his lives. He has been able to hold his grandchildren – months before, he didn’t even know they existed.
As Adam’s story shows, our work with communities is important and it can change the lives of mentally ill people forever.
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