Saturday, January 11, 2014

CHRIS' STORY - A LOOK AT THE STATE OF MENTAL HEALTH IN PNG

This journey has  taken me to strange and wonderful places  and I keep meeting interesting people.  
In 2003,  I met Chris.   We had a lively conversation  in front of Garden City over outboard motors  and the kind of fuel they used.   I am not too sure how  that conversation began   initially.   But I introduced myself and he did the same.  
Over the next five years, Chris’ mental state deteriorated. He was rejected by his family. On one occasion, I met him in Boroko with his arm in a sling.   For me it was upsetting to see him  in the state he was in.  His shoulder was dislocated. I asked him how he was and he told me how members of his family had assaulted him and how people on his street called him “longlong”  and joined in the assault. 
We went into a shop and found some medicine for him and some food. The level of discrimination he faced in the shop was unbelievable.  The security guard wanted him to wait outside. I explained:  “No.  He is with me. We’re here to buy medicine.”  Then I got  so annoyed with the salesperson who was trying to get my attention to tell me that the person I was with was “longlong.”
Chris has seen some of the worst  sorts of behavior that human being can exhibit. He  has been publicly humiliated so many times because many people think that because he appears mentally incapacitated, he can’t think for himself or can’t understand that he is being discriminated against.  Nearly everyone who passes by talks down to him or abuses  him in some way  just because they can. 
 Looks can be very deceiving. Chris studied Communication Arts  at Divine Word University.  For a short while he worked with the Religious Television Association.  He has had a few problems along the way.  However, he  is an avid reader of  books and newspapers and speaks flawless English.   He knows about the corruption and He knows about the current happenings in politics.
He suffers from schizophrenia  -  a condition that was  diagnosed by a senior  Papua New Guinean mental health specialist.  
Every conversation with Chris is always heartwarming, he doesn’t complain about  his difficulties  but always says he’s trying to do something to look after himself.   He always wishes the best for his friends.  In every conversation with me, he always says,  pass my greetings to your  wife and children.  He still remembers my kids from the first time I introduced them when they were little.
Today after a long conversation, I asked permission to take his picture for this short story. He said: “Bro, please write about me. Tell my story.” 
Just before leaving  we shook hands and I said: “Chris look after yourself.”
And in true Chris style, he stretched out his arms  in a comical gesture and said: “Yes, I will! I will not protest in public. I’ve been  stigmatized enough.”
I tell this story to draw attention to the state of mental health care in Papua New Guinea where we have only one psychiatric hospital and less than 10 mental health specialists.
The situation is so  serious  that  brave intelligent people like Chris can’t get help and their conditions are allowed to deteriorate to a point where they are truly mentally incapacitated.

1 comment:

  1. Mental Health Care - It is a subject that we pnguineans don't really understand and to read about Chris is an eye opener. It is true most pnguineans suffer some sort of mental condition but the how and where to get help is difficult. Dr Ambi's should be given a slot to talk about this issues during prime time on EMTV, say before the NRL matches...

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