World Mental Health Day (WMHD) is being marked around the globe on Thursday October 10th with the theme ‘Suicide Prevention’. In Mali, as well as in many other parts of Africa, where their seriousness is still greatly underestimated, mental disorders are often not sufficiently diagnosed in order to better identify their neurological and sociological origins.
The glaring lack of thorough clinical observation, leading to a well-structured psychotherapy for the benefit of the victims of mental and spiritual imbalance, often leads to cases of aggravation that become detrimental to the entire society. Cases of acute mental depression, often neglected, end up driving some sufferers to committing suicide.
This year, WMHD is being marked at a time, when countless Malians have been traumatised by atrocities related to the ongoing conflict in the country and are in dire need of psychological assistance. These victims, in addition to lacking adequate humanitarian support to survive, need essential therapeutic follow-up to regain a taste for life after being psychologically devastated by the traumatic effects of war.
Mali has been facing a multidimensional war since 2012, specifically in the northern and central regions which are still paying the highest price. The long-term violence affecting these regions is causing unseen suffering among local populations, in particular, women and children, who are living with the after-effects of the situations they experienced.
Children, who have been orphaned by the murder of their parents, as well as women who have been raped by armed combatants or systematically turned into sex slaves, are among those who accumulate the greatest mental damage. To this is added the cases of hundreds of people who have been completely stripped of their property and forced into a situation of extreme poverty, especially after intercommunal attacks.
As a result, there is an increased need for mental healthcare and psychological support within these communities. The weakening of the local health system for nearly a decade since the war broke out, has left a great void in the care of these people, with often acute mental disorders manifesting. Most victims interviewed by 7Dnews would only talk about their experience on condition of anonymity.
According to organisations expert in such symptoms such as Doctors Without Borders (DWB), some victims, by dint of feeling psychologically trapped by the nightmare scenes, lose their appetite for months. They can no longer sleep, can feel isolated and may cry uncontrollably.
According to DWB, in many cases, the regular psychotherapeutic care offered to mental health patients helps to reduce their pathological symptoms and provides them with a minimum of moral well-being.
In Toguéré-Coumbé, a remote locality in the central region of Mopti which was long-besieged by extremist groups, new rules were arbitrarily imposed on the local population. A female resident, who was the victim of a terror attack by armed extremists, escaped attempted murder for violating the ban on organising a cultural celebration ceremony in the village.
"When I managed to escape, I was afraid of being caught by the jihadists during the trip. I spent all night on the bus without getting off. I forced myself to close my eyes, but the nightmare of the scene woke me every time", she said. Highly traumatised, it was after 5 months of silence that she was helped by DWB, who offered her psychological treatment.
Another woman receiving DWB's psychological support was the victim of an armed attack in her own home in the northern Malian region of Kidal. "I was very afraid. I saw my children panicking, trying to hide themselves away from bullets,” she said. She fled into the surrounding countryside, where she spent two days without eating. Filled with fear, she remained motionless in her hiding place during those long hours without being able to make any attempt to be rescued.
According to the latest report from DWB, 12,558 Malian victims of the conflict were medically checked and monitored by its psychological teams from January to August 2019. But despite these numbers, several thousand more victims, both among the displaced and those trapped in conflict zones, still do not have access to relevant medical facilities for appropriate psychological care.
In Mali, the general stigmatisation of people suffering from mental disorders and requiring psychiatric care means that they are often neglected in health centres This stigmatisation is a major explanatory factor for the isolation of these people as well as their continued increase in number.
"The lack of specialised medical and psychological management systems, coupled with the social weight of the issue, continue to isolate the victims more,” Dr Isaf Charaf, a psychologist at DWB, said.