Officials in Cameroon say the number of mental health patients in the country has more than doubled in the past year, as the country deals with a separatist crisis in its western regions and Boko Haram clashes in the north.
Fonbe Hedwick is the director of the Vine Mental Health Center, in Bameda, capital of Cameroon’s volatile Northwest region.
He says his center was chosen for World Mental Health Day activities in Bamenda because the number of psychiatric patients at the center increased from less than 20 in 2021 to over 100 in October 2022.
“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. Some with severe anger issues. They present emotional and behavioral tendencies which are uncontrollable,” said Fonbe.
Fonbe said many families lack the resources to care for psychiatric patients at home and either abandon the patients at the center or put them on the streets.
Rebecca Nkwate is the highest government official in charge of mental patients in the Northwest region. She says the number of psychiatric patients seeking help in the region has increased from less than 2,500 to over 6,000 within the past year.
“Some of them come here already abused, so we listen to their story to increase their morale and in the course of looking for solutions, it may require that we go for home visits,” said Nkwate. “We help them at the level of the police and we work with those that go to the hospital when it comes to trauma management. We make sure that they enjoy the same human rights like other people.”
Overall, Cameroon says the number of mental patients in the central African state has more than doubled from about 10,000 to 23,000 in the past 12 months.
The government says with the separatist crisis in western regions and Boko Haram terrorism on the northern border decreasing, humanitarian workers are better able to find and assist patients abandoned in villages where fighting was intensive.
Laure Mengueme is the director of mental health at Cameroon’s Ministry of Health. She says many people lost family members in the conflicts or experienced acts of abuse, violence and trauma, triggering mental health crises.
She urges civilians to seek medical help instead of taking psychiatric patients to traditional healers or pastors who claim they have miracle solutions to mental health problems.
She says a majority of the mental patients government workers are assisting to recover their health are nervous, aggressive, irritated and violent. She simply says doctors and therapists should exercise more patience with psychiatric patients when the patients become violent. She says the country counts very much on doctors and therapists to reduce the growing number of mental patients.
The World Health Organization reports that growing social and economic inequalities, protracted conflicts, violence and public health emergencies continue to take a toll on mental health, in Cameroon and worldwide.
The U.N. says a staggering 84 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced in 2021 leading to an increase in the number of people in need of mental health care.
The 2022 World Mental Health Day theme is “Make mental health and well-being for all a global priority.”