Home » Cameroonians Turn To Churches, Relatives For Help As Mental Health Illnesses Skyrocket

Cameroonians Turn To Churches, Relatives For Help As Mental Health Illnesses Skyrocket

by Atlantic Chronicles
  • How Blaming Cases On Witchcraft Prevents Many From Seeking Psychiatric, Counselling Help
  • Increasing Cases Blamed On Anglophone Crisis, War On Boko Haram

By Synthia Lateu

Faced with the rising cases of mental health related illnesses, many Cameroonians are falling back to their churches, especially the newly found ones, hoping that they will find a solution to what they generally blame on witchcraft.

The heavy reliance on the churches is largely fueled by the so-called miracles they see performed on local TV channels run by these churches that always blame all mental health related issues on witchcraft from family members and estranged relatives. Apart from the churches, many too, especially those in need of counselling services mostly rely on friends and family members who they can comfortably confide in and rely on. Few seek professional help from the few experts in the various domains in the country.

Speaking to Voice of America, Fonbe Hedwick, Director of Vine Mental Health Centre in Bamenda says the number of psychiatric patients in his Centre skyrocketed from less than 20 in 2021 to over 100 by October 2022. He blames the increase on the Anglophone Crisis that has left many with issues that lead to mental illness; “We are receiving those who have gone through traumas, and they are sad, many who complain of sleeplessness, some who cannot be able to control themselves, they are so restless, so agitated and some with severe anger issues. They present emotional and behavioural tendencies which are uncontrollable,” Fonbe told VOA.

Solange Manga, a 39-year-old teacher in Buea says she visits a friend and shares her worries in exchange for advice, whenever she is stressed up. To her, “A counsellor must not be somebody that studied to become one, or go through any training. You can share your problems even with a friend. When I share a problem with my friend, she becomes my counsellor at that time” she says.

Another Buea local, whose problems are softened when he shares them with relatives, is a 31- year old David Motale. He has also resorted to ignoring things that are not good for his mental health, in order to stay sane.

In Cameroon, a large segment of the population believes that mental health illnesses are largely caused by witchcraft, as such, those in need of mental health help either seek help from so-called witch doctors or churches that advertise their services and blames such cases on witchcraft and other spiritual attacks. Very few tend to seek help from psychiatric homes, where professionals who have been trained to handle such cases are.

Recently, health officials in Cameroon said the number of mental patients in the country has moved from 10,000 to 23,000 in the past one year. They blamed the situation on the crises in the Northwest and Southwest Regions and the Boko Haram war in the North.

Meanwhile, untreated mental health issues like stress, trauma, abuse, job loss have reportedly been at the root cause of most suicide cases recorded in Cameroon. From 2012 to 2022, a total of 994 women and 2,064 men are said to have committed suicide in Cameroon.

Many Cameroonians continue to give metaphysical connotations to mental health disorders. As such, many do not seek the professional help of psychiatrists. David Motale is categorical when he says no emotional state can cause mental illness; “Witchcraft can contribute to it (mental illness). To some people, it is as a result of theft, for example you can take something that belongs to somebody, the person goes an extra mile to cause you pain.” he explains.

David narrates the situation of a late acquaintance, whose mental derangement was believed to have been cast by the latter’s uncle following a land dispute. Another mental illness case to him, was casted on a child by the child’s father, through a curse.

These beliefs have driven some, in to accompanying their mentally-ill relatives to churches,   traditional herbalists and rarely to hospitals for solutions.

The WHO stated On October 06, 2022, that Africa has the highest rate of suicide deaths in the world, partly due to limited means of action available to treat and prevent risk factors, including mental disorders. The international health organisation said, the region “has one psychiatrist for every 500,000 inhabitants, which is 100 times less than the WHO recommendation”

WHO Africa, launched a suicide prevention campaign in Africa on world mental health day, on October 10, 2022. It was commemorated under the theme: “Make mental health and well-being for all a global priority.”

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