'Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind' - The Mentally Ill in African Countries in Crisis

'Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind' - The Mentally Ill in African Countries in Crisis

A 13-year-old boy in Somalia has been tied to a stick for over ten years. An 8-year-old girl in Nigeria has been kept with high-risk inmates at the local prison for several months. A 26-year-old man in Kenya has been locked in a shed at the refugee camp for two years. These are the Condemned, given a voice through photographer Robin Hammond's award-winning project.

This is the backside of conflict and crisis in sub-Saharan Africa: the mentally ill that are kept out of sight. With little or no treatment available, they are shackled, starved and forgotten. Abuse and torture is seen as normal treatment of the mentally ill, lacking the health care and awareness they really need. "Religious leaders are often the only people to offer any form of comfort. Most people with mental illness or disabilities are resigned to dark corners of institutions or homes," said Robin Hammond in a video."Families who struggle to cope often abandon their mentally disabled child, or resort to chaining them or just hide them away."

Robin Hammond questions why this has become a reality for so many, why governments, aid agencies and societies alike shy away from this issue. He points to the fact that mental illness is a side effect of conflict and crisis: malnutrition can cause brain damage, and wars can cause trauma. Yet treating mental disabilities are rarely considered a priority, or even considered at all. "African countries that have been through disasters often rely on the assistance of outside agencies," Robin Hammond said in an interview.

[quote]"If international non-governmental organizations and other donors are not going to acknowledge mental health as an integral part of primary health care and give it the attention it has to other important issues such as HIV, TB, Malaria then it is unlikely African governments will give mental health any significant attention."[/quote]

Hammond was recently awarded the 2013 W. Eugene Smith Fund Grant of $30.000 to help complete the project entitled Condemned - Mental Health in African Countries in Crisis. "Condemned is a powerful look at people balanced on the edge of life who are generally neglected, forgotten and often abused," said one of the grant judges, Sarah Leen, in a statement. "His images, often shocking but always tender, highlight this tragedy and search for moments of hope. His work stood out among many worthy candidates."

This article was written by Boel Marcks von Würtemberg and was originally published on the International Political Forum.


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