Chained to a tree in all weathers for years on end in order to ‘cure’ people with mental health issues – that’s the reality for many people in low-income countries where there is a lack of investment in health care, particularly mental health.
According to The Global Reporting Centre, “mental illness is the leading cause of disability worldwide”. Being locked in shackles is often a deemed an appropriate measure to somehow help a person with a physical impairment, an intellectual impairment or someone with a mental health issue. It is unsurprising then that disabled people across the world are far more likely to experience mental health problems than non-disabled people, due to the abuse disabled people face, the stigma surrounding disability and the subsequent isolation.
It is not just disabled people that face this isolation but also their families who often become isolated from their local community because they have a disabled relative. Our playworkers at our project in The Gambia have been labelled ‘devil dancers’ in the past by individuals in the community. It is an abhorrent term which is quite literal – some people really think that disabled people are devils, and those that work and play with them are ‘devil dancers’.
The negative attitudes that exist are damaging to everyone.
The 10th October is World Mental Health Day – a day to raise “awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilising efforts in support of mental health”.
Many people consider that children with impairments are difficult and 'specialist' cases and too often this means that they are not included. We spend every day working to raise awareness of the rights, needs and plight of disabled young people in Africa. The monumental task we face is to challenge and change the negative attitudes that exist. Despite the fact that these attitudes are deeply engrained, our Inclusive Community Development projects are helping to change the way non-disabled people traditionally regard the disabled children in their communities.
When we understand that our attitudes have the power to disable a person then we understand that we have the responsibility and the means to stop disabling people. World Mental Health Day is a good time to remember that and to resolve to work towards a more inclusive global society.