Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Living WIth Mental Illness

She is a mother, she has a family which loves her so much and she was a psychiatric patient. Although her mental state is much better now, Ana Ulamila still lives with a stigma of being a psychiatric patient.

It must not be easy for somebody who has been affected with a mental illness to talk about it because of the stigma society attaches to the disease. And while this was initially the case with Ms Ulamila, a 55-year-old mother of seven, she has slowly begun to share her thoughts on the greatest ordeal in her life.

She even said she does not usually share her story with just anybody because the fear of being victimised by the public. "I am afraid to tell my story to anybody because people may take it wrongly and view me differently," Ms Ulamila said.

However, she realised she needed to speak out to break the misconception about the illness and how people view patients with psychiatric problems.

"I was just a normal person like anybody else, I love my children and care for them so much as they care about me," Ms Ulamila said. "Even though I did not have a proper job, I love to sew and that was how I was able to look after them.

"I have been separated from my husband for a very long time from even before I got sick.
"However, it was in 2001 when things just went wrong, suddenly becoming different.
"I was often pushed left, right and centre by those who once were called my relatives.
"I was told to leave the place I was living in but the great thing about it was that my children became closer to me when this happened.

"They realised I was talking and dressing differently. I was not the aunt, the cousin, the mother that they knew I used to be." With tears welling in her eyes, Ms Ulamila said it was the hardest time of her life. "I was looked down upon and I could just tell that some of my relatives just did not like me because of the sickness I had," she said tearfully.

She was taken to the Colonial War Memorial Hospital by her children and later referred to St Giles Pyschiatric Hospital. "I believe being taken to St Giles was what my relatives and those that knew me were ashamed of," she said.

"I was even ashamed of myself at one stage but I knew this was where I could be treated and be normal again. I was admitted as a patient in 2001 for over a week and was released."
Ms Ulamila said she was different because she was allergic to all the medicine that was given to her. "I was given the medicine and I felt that it was making me worse so I just quit, until now," she said. "I feel much better now without medication, whereas for others without their medication they would become worse."

She said she had been admitted twice since 2001 and could feel she was getting better each day.
However, one thing that still remains and hurts her so much is the stigma that comes with mental problems.

"Although I am well and am participating in all the activities organised by the Psychiatric Survivors Association in promoting public awareness on the issue people, still look at me differently."

Now Ms Ulamila is looking at rebuilding her life after she was given a new sewing machine to continue doing what she loves.

"I can't wait to continue sewing clothes and earning some money to help my family," she said.
However, she pleads with the public to try to understand sufferers and survivors of mental illnesses and view them as productive members of society.
"We also have a family, and we need your love and protection. We need you to look at us as brothers and sisters and if everybody had this kind of perspective of mental patients then we can break the stigma that is attached to it"

Acting medical superintendent of St Giles Psychiatric Hospital Doctor Peni Biukoto said part of the problem could stem from the fact that mental health had never been a priority for governments in Fiji as well as the rest of the world.

"May be the answer lies in the observation that mental health requires us to confront our personal and group fears, stereotypes and inadequacies," Dr Biukoto said. "Mental health in Fiji is struggling to free itself from the prevalent stigma and discrimination that bind it in today's society.

"Its workers continue to struggle daily with resource constraints coupled with bureaucracy."
What is the source of this stigma and discrimination? "Human kind's global history and Fiji's national history for that matter illustrates our innate suspicion and dislike of other human individuals, and human groups who are different from us in appearance, speech, habits and behaviour," Dr Biukoto said. He said we fear unpredictability and we see mental disorders as examples of unpredictability. "We fear that we can not comprehend, mental disorders appear often incomprehensible to most of us, we reject what we can not assimilate into our world viewpoint.

"It can be a challenge for us to integrate the perceptions of a depressed psychotic or highly anxious individual into our world experience," he said.

Dr Biukoto said to those we can not communicate with or fail to understand or who cause discomfort, we tend to avoid and reject unless there is benefit from perseverance in establishing meaningful contact. "I find that we the helpers, are often the biggest barrier to mental health, not only in the community at large but also within the health profession," he said.
"We carry within ourselves our own misconceptions, the stereotypes and fears associated with mental disorders.

"It is important that we confront these within ourselves first before we advocate or promote mental health in the community." Dr Biukoto said there was a need for active and proactive participation of other stakeholders and interested organisations and individuals in these Mental Health areas.

"The future for mental health in Fiji will appear brighter with wider involvement from you the community. "A future with improved mental health is a better future for Fiji," Dr Biukoto said.

Adpted from the Fijitimes: 14th October, 2007