Let's talk a little bit more about mental Health

Marie Abanga
Posted January 9, 2019 from Cameroon

I am a fierce mental health advocate in addition to being a mental health user and service provider. I have had very first and painful experience of mental illness and the tragedy it sometimes brings to families. That was the case with my only brother from same mother(my mother's only son). Today, I wish to share a review of the book I wrote on his demise.

My Brother’s Journey: From Genius To Simpleton by Marie Abanga is a moving tribute to her younger brother Gabriel, whose life was taken away far too soon by mental illness.  It includes not only Marie’s words, but also the words of others who knew and loved her brother.

In the book she shares what a kind person he was with great personal and academic promise until illness entered his life and irreversibly changed him.  The “simpleton” reference in the title reflects the challenges he had with performing basic tasks towards the end of his life.  The book includes letters he had written, which showed a clear decline given that he had previously done very well in school.

He was diagnosed with epilepsy while he was still in school, and had multiple hospitalizations.  He was later diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.  He moved to Germany to further his studies, but ended up being deported because his illness was uncontrolled.  Marie shares how difficult it was when he returned home to Cameroon; it was difficult to tell which parts of what he was saying were real and which were not, and she described him as resembling a ghost.

He later was able to get a visa to move to the United States.  At the time, it was thought that it would be the best thing for his health, and perhaps the “black magic” that affected him might not be able to cross the ocean.  However, his health further deteriorated there.    Marie describes the numerous challenges in trying to get adequate care for him, made even more difficult by the fact that his immediate family was back in Cameroon, and Marie was unable to get a visa to go to the U.S.

When the family were informed that Gabriel had died, the cause was unknown.  Marie is openly critical of the health care system that let him down.  In particular she condemns the institution where he was held after an altercation with police.  She shares a letter her mother had written to the institution asking that his medical needs be addressed, but this seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

Marie writes about the stigma around mental illness in Africa, where the subject is considered taboo.  Those who are ill may be shunned by their families and rejected by their communities, and may be talked of as being wicked, bewitched, or possessed.

What really stood out for me was the prevailing attitudes in Cameroon regarding mental illness.  I’ve heard that ideas such as black magic exist, but this book really brought it to life.  It’s also interesting that he seemed to do the best when he was in Cameroon, and worse when he was in countries with supposedly more advanced health care systems.  This is a sad story of a very promising young man who fell through the cracks – the very wide cracks – in the health care system.

You can find Marie on Marie Abanga’s Blog.

I really appreciate my blogger friend Ashley in the US for writing this awesome review.

Here is to more mental health care support and more self care too. #ThereisHope; #BetheHope

Comments 11

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jlanghus
Jan 10
Jan 10

Hi Marie,

Thanks for sharing your heartfelt tribute, post and book about the loss of your brother. I can see why you're passionate about mental health and all the troubling stigmas around it. I hope you are able to build a lot more awareness around mental health issues in your country and beyond. How do you think he got epilepsy? Is it genetic or do you think something else caused it?

Hope you're having a good day, dear.

Marie Abanga
Jan 10
Jan 10

Dear Jill, it's always my pleasure to share. Yes, you can now get my passionate drift. It is for my brother and myself above all. I mean I am the country director of the foundation set up in his honour, and offering hope to persons living with a mental illness or mental health challenge is the 2nd focus area of my association Hope for the Abused and Battered. I am equally the Global Mental Health Peer Network executive representing Cameroon. I am therefore trying my best, actually one of if not the most vocal private voice on mental health awareness in my country. I was personally invited by the Minister of Public Health to the second national mental health days held last year. It can only get more impactful.
I don't know for sure how he got epilepsy, not being a neurologist lol. Even neurologist say there are many ways through which one gets epilepsy. I am more of a social advocate against stigma than a scientific advocate against prevention. That was my presentation at the 3rd African Congress on Epilepsy in Senegal last year.
Thanks as usual for your comment, my day is coming up good. Hope yours too.

jlanghus
Jan 12
Jan 12

Yes, I can see why you're so passionate know about mental health. It's so sweet that you named your son after your brother, too:-) That's impressive that you are the most vocal in your country. Agreed that it can only improve.

Epilepsy isn't hereditary, though, is it? Or, did a specific, traumatic event happen? Interesting. Yes, I get it. I'm always trying to figure things out, you know:-) I wasn't even thinking necessarily about prevention. Just curious about the cause, more so.

You're welcome. Great to hear you're doing well... Hope you're having a good one!

Marie Abanga
Jan 12
Jan 12

Dear Jill,

It's ok to be thinking your own way. I mean we are each wired our own way and for me that's the beauty of it all. Thanks for all as always. Epilepsy may be hereditary to the extent that it makes one predisposed genetically but not more. I mean that's what neurologist say. That's kind of the same with some other illnesses right? With regards to traumatic events, hmm probably our parents' divorce. He was so close to mum and so fragile even then, his brain may have just gone electric sparks when she left.
I am actually battling with a running nose, so hard to catch it hahaha
Hope you are well
Hugs

jlanghus
Jan 13
Jan 13

Hello M:-)

Yes, it is! You're very welcome:-)

Yes on predisposition. Interesting on your parent's divorce coinciding with his epilepsy, if you ask me. I feel like people don't look at experiences and emotions coinciding with emotions as much as they could, and doctors definitely don't.

Hope you're feeling better, dear.

Marie Abanga
Jan 15
Jan 15

Dear Jill,

You strike it where we should all start. I din't know about that pre 2013, but now I know so much better. Yet, even some who know don't want to look into those, it hurts so much. Doctors don't do that too because it ain't profitable neither to them nor big pharma - there I said it lol

jlanghus
Jan 15
Jan 15

Exactly! Yeah.

I agree about people not wanting to see it, and also about the doctors and Big Pharma not profiting either:-(

Sis. Salifu
Jan 10
Jan 10

Dear Marie, wow is my exclamation! Its not easy to live with mental health victims. I am a living testimony, my relative is in a similar situation and is hmnm sometimes as you said we do not know to believe her or not.

Sorry for your lost! If you and your family had prevented him from visiting the State it might be the best option. You see at that state their trust level is limited and living with total strangers might have worsened situations. Its sad but its the reality!

Marie Abanga
Jan 10
Jan 10

Hi Sal,

Thanks for your comment. Receive an empathetic hug with regards to your relative. Thanks for the sympathy. I am not and refused to be concerned with 'what ifs' because they can't help at all. You know, people live in the US with mental health challenges and some go on to recover while others don't. For me, it's not about any best option but knowing at the end of it all you tried your best. You sometimes thing about 'letting them be independent and making choices of their own', my brother played the lottery on his own and was so happy migrating to the US - He was so proud of the citizenship and was doing so well for a few years out there too. Mum visited him as often as she could and we had family there including my kid sister with whom he lived for a while before the illness caught up with him again.
So you see, it's never a clear cut line

Sis. Salifu
Jan 11
Jan 11

Ooh I never knew he got family members around. I thought he was entirely on his own. Sure you have done what you could.

Our own is here managing, we just make sure she is not alone since she has contemplated on suicidal attempts. We monitor her carefully every and making sure she does not get provoke all the time. This is not easy but we are managing with her. Very sorry for your lost! Which year did this happened? Recently!

Marie Abanga
Jan 12
Jan 12

Dear Lis,
Thanks for your reply. I am glad you got more facts now and realize your first remarks may have been a bit and unnecessarily judgmental. In my years of living and now practice in the psychic domain, I intentionally avoid to have expectations or opinions especially without knowing all the facts. One case will largely differ from another and each individual is to be taken in their context. Including the person in all discussions in my context, has helped me a lot and I have been surprised at how much they crave for such involvement instead of being treated as 'lunatics' regardless of any crisis they may be going through or recently did. My brother died in 2014.