Rose cares for her adult nephew Robert, who has lived with severe mental health problems since 2006. As a member of a CBM-supported mental health users and carers group in Malawi, East Africa, she receives vital peer support and now also helps educate and support others.
She remembers vividly when she first realised that Robert was ill: “The first day he just disappeared from home around six in the morning and got back around six in the evening. The next day it was the same unusual story. It was after three days that we discovered that he was roaming around the trading centre where he stayed on the road blocking vehicles, saying he wanted to die. I was very worried.”
Rose sought help from traditional healers but soon ran out of money and took Robert to the district hospital. “Previously Robert used to refuse to take his medication. He spent his day roaming outside and shouting at the top of his voice. He no longer does that… Once in a while he speaks sensible things; and I am happy he is gradually improving.”
“There are people around who think Robert is faking his illness and yet that’s not the case. When I hear such remarks I feel pain inside me. I get annoyed.”
“People with mental illness are difficult to look after. Many families easily get tired and give up on them.”
Rose is passionate about supporting other families of people with mental health problems. She is a member of her local group of the Mental Health Users and Carers Association (MeHUCA), CBM’s partner in Malawi, which provides peer support and improves understanding of mental illness. "Let me thank God for allowing me to join MeHUCA!”, she exclaims.
The MeHUCA group meetings Rose attends bring together people with experience of mental health problems and the family members who care for them. Rose has learned a lot from the group, and it has also given her the confidence and opportunity to educate others.
“Through MEHUCA we are able to engage the community around us on how they can handle and take care of people with mental illness...I now know how to protect and take care for people with mental illness. I am also able to tell signs and symptoms of mental illness. I have learnt about his hygiene – that he should always be clean and smart and to regularly wash his clothes. Above all, I have learnt to love him.”
Rose speaks passionately to others about the need for family members to show love and affection to their relatives who have mental illness. “I will continue to look after him, ensuring that he has medication and will do this until I die.”