Coming to grips with mental illness was a great challenge for 34 year old micro biologist in Accra, who calls himself Ed Morgan. From the Ghanaian capital, Joana Mantey tells us more about his life.
Morgan, as he prefers to be known, is a conservative Christian – no drugs, no liquor. Living what many would consider to be a righteous life made it difficult for him to believe he could have a mental illness. He says he was a youth leader at church and did not feel the need to see a psychiatrist when he started having problems with his moods.
He spoke to me upon entering a psychiatric clinic.
"Initially," he said, "because of my Christian background, I did not want to admit that I had a problem. The doctor told me that I have to admit that I have a problem so he can help me sort things out. Later on, I told the doctor I have not been feeling so fine so he is the best person to help me. My contribution is to admit that I need help.”
Health experts say some mental illnesses can be compared to physical ones like diabetes: they can be controlled, but not cured. They say getting people to admit to mental illness is half the battle won because failure can bring about a relapse in more than half of emotionally disturbed patients. This often happens when patients stop taking drugs after they get out of hospital. Ed may have felt pressured into admitting to mental illness and therefore took the seriousness of his condition lightly.
Upon arrival at the clinic, a nurse said Ed was shabbily dressed with pieces of cloth tied around his body. His condition was diagnosed as a form of schizophrenia. Health experts explain that schizophrenic patients may hallucinate, speak audibly to themselves, have exaggerated feelings of self importance or act violently.
Ed started counseling sessions which probed deeply into his family background. Many believe schizophrenia is an inherited disease, carried for example, in the genetic make-up of the patient. Others say environmental pressures may bring the trait out, or exacerbate it.
Ed Morgan never knew his father. He and his twin brother were raised by a single mother who died recently. He is strongly convinced that the stress caused by a father who abandoned the family, and then, finally, the death of his mother, contributed to his mental illness.
As the interview progressed, Ed drove away other people who tried to enter the room he shares with two other patients. “I don’t want anybody to listen to me,” he say.
The nurse who takes care of Ed said he has a very high opinion of himself. He also refuses to take his drugs especially when they are given out by a ward assistant. The nurse says on occasion, Ed complains to the doctor that he has not been given the proper dosage of medication. He then stops taking his drugs and insists that others be added.
These are the times when Ed’s condition deteriorates. He shouts at the nurses and even decides which visitors may enter the various rooms of the clinic. His nurse is not surprised at such behavior saying other schizophrenic patients may even imagine themselves to be God, or powerful government officials. She says his place is always untidy and sometimes he refuses to bathe. Ed is visited weekly by his brother who is a medical doctor in Kumasi.
Ed says what he does not like about his stay at the clinic is the strict adherence to time. Patients are also not allowed outside the premises of the clinic for fear they may run away. Ed says sometimes his life is so controlled that he feels like a Zombie.
He said, “It has to do with the timing: when you are going to eat, take your drugs, converse with some body, sleep....the doctor may be observing all this but not on sight.”
Ed’s twin brother picks up the bill which amounts to about 550 dollars over a period of two weeks. That is not to mention drugs, some of which sell as much as 25 cents a pill.
Ed says he considers himself fortunate because he sees people with worse cases at the clinic. He looks forward to going back to his job as a researcher at a medical research institute in Accra.
That may be possible in time, say his nurses – but only if he continues to take his medication, and focuses on getting better.