Mental illness: Children suffering silently in Social Siberia

Sophie sitting beside her mother Omotola
Sophie sitting beside her mother Omotola

She was found naked, un-kempt, restless and aggressive. She had deep lacerations across her chest and it was hard at the time to decide if this was the result of a fatal accident or if she had been attacked by organ harvesters.

She could barely talk, all she did was cling to the woman she was found with. Sophie is just around five years old. Her mother, Omotola had been suffering from mental illness for over six years and only recovered reasonably after spending close to three months at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Barnawa Kaduna Nigeria.

Looking at Sophie, three months afterwards at the FCT Unity Children’s Home, I must admit my feelings registered on a different scale, an unfamiliar territory. Her eyes were curious, she had made friends, she was holding a toy in her hands, and she was laughing. Her world had completely turned around. She was now far from the regular routine of plying the streets with her insane mother day and night for years. The horror of sleeping under bridges, eating from trash cans and waste bins, and evading the aggression of ‘normal’ people.

Sophie is just one of the countless children of insane women roaming the streets with their mothers and can be seen even in major cities of Nigeria. Children, who have lost their rights to health-care, to education and even security, all because Nigeria’s social perception of those suffering from mental illness has condemned them to such fate.

Omotola (Sophie’s mum) suffers from temporary amnesia. She says she doesn’t remember being married before her mental illness led her to the streets. This brings horrible assumptions. If Omotola was married before her health had deteriorated, we are looking at a father who would leave his unstable wife and (perhaps unconsciously) a daughter at the mercy of the streets. If she wasn’t married, then its likely Omotola was raped during her ordeal.

Now i don’t want to go into the numerous reasons why a sane person would attempt to rape an insane person. But when you think of it, we are aware that persons suffering from mental illness in Nigeria could go on for years without an adequate bath. For whatever reason, anyone who can put his organ inside an insane woman and goes to the length of getting her pregnant, that person, of the two, is the one who really needs treatment.

Lucky for Sophie and her mum, Dr. Maruf Damilola who is a friend of mine as well as a resident doctor at the Abaji General Hospital woke up one morning and said he couldn’t deal with seeing them on and on and live like everyone else who did, as though it meant nothing.

With some help from his colleagues and some medical staff, he was able to get Sophie admitted at an orphanage and her mum at a psychiatric hospital. Both mother and daughter have been doing astoundingly well so far. But Maruf fears that if Sophie and Omotola do not get a sustainable platform afterwards it is possible that their recently discovered happiness may be short-lived.

Media attention as well as aid from humanitarians is what Sophie needs. Her problem seems small at a time when the country is looking at global epidemics such as Ebola, but it is still a problem nonetheless. Like every other child one can see at different parts of the capital city, holding a lollipop, riding a roller-coaster and getting quality education, I believe children like Sophie deserve at its barest minimum a chance. They deserve an opportunity to live a normal life.

Sophie, three months at the Orphanage.
Sophie, three months at Orphanage.

If you are interested in helping Sophie or Omotola with media attention, please share this information in any way you can. If you want to help in any other way you can reach them via the detail below.

Dr. Maruf Damilola
Health and Human Services Secretariat
FCTA Abuja, Nigeria

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