YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - Seven leading mental health charities in Cameroon on Saturday led protests in the central African state's capital, Yaounde, against harsh treatment some African healers give people with mental illness. Some psychiatric patients undergo several forms of torture from healers who believe mental illness is divine punishment for wrongdoing.
The protests were provoked by the chaining, detention and torture of a man believed to have epilepsy, frequently leading to memory loss.
Juniour Lawan, 24, said when he had a series of epileptic seizures four years ago, his parents said he was a fool and stopped him from going to college. He said he finds it very difficult convincing his family and friends that he temporarily suffers from memory loss but insists that he is not a fool as they claim.
Lawan said after three years of hardship, he escaped from the home of a healer in the town of Ntui, about 80 kilometers north of Yaounde. He said while there he was forced to look at the sun for three minutes every day as a form of healing. He was also beaten and given some concoctions to drink as part of what the healer said was a cleansing from evil spirits.
Unfortunately, Lawan said he did not find peace at the Yaounde residence of his older brother, Diedonne Sadi. Sadi said he did not want his brother, who he knows is under an evil spell for wrongdoing, to live with him.
Sadi asked his neighbors to chain Lawan's feet and hands to stop him from destroying the roof of his house. According to Sadi, Lawan escaped from the healer's care because Lawan is not only mad but possessed by evil spirits. He plans to take Lawan to exorcist priests for deliverance.
Lawan told the police, where he was taken for safety, that he struggled to escape through the roof because of the pain from beatings.
His story spread like wildfire and on social media platforms, attracting the attention of mental health charity groups.
Dr. Nchouat Lyonga Kharim Charles, who treats psychiatric patients in Yaounde, said the charities organizex the protests in Yaounde to inform people that mental illness can be treated at hospitals. He said the burden on families who find it difficult to take care of mental patients will be reduced if they simply take them to psychiatric hospitals.
"It will reduce the stigma, the pain and the harm caused on these patients, like stigmatizing and insulting them on their predicament," he said. "Giving them over to traditional healers, where they are abandoned to themselves and left at the mercy of these healers. Where people suggest sex as a channel of healing because they consider these diseases to be spiritual or at worst they are even abandoned to the streets."
Traditionally it is believed in Cameroon that generational curses, God`s punishment for wrongdoing, and witchcraft or spiritual possession are responsible for mental illness.
Cameroon's government adds that trauma from the four-year separatist crisis in English-speaking regions and stress from Boko Haram terrorism in northern Cameroon have increased mental illness in the central African state.