When I stepped into the two-bed room at the National Hospital Abuja, a gauntly looking woman greeted me with so much warmth.
She was fair in complexion and couldn’t be more than 1.4m tall. Perhaps 45 years or a little older. She had a big bible and a Christ Embassy daily devotional booklet on her bed. She buried herself in them along with constant prayers.
After four days I became curious to know what brought her to the hospital as no doctors, nurses or visitors were coming to see her. She wasn’t even getting calls from well-wishers.
“When are you leaving the hospital ma?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I am waiting for my husband to come. He is the one keeping me here. I ought to have been home by now”
“Why would your husband keep you here when you are supposed to be home. Would you not be raking up unnecessary bills?
“The bill is already up to 500,000 Naira and climbing. He says he doesn’t have money but secretly told the doctors that he will clear the bill.”
“Why has he not come to get you then?”
“He says he is very busy”
“Where does he work?”
“Ministry of Foreign Affairs”
“If he so busy, he can’t come to take you home, why don’t you get discharged by yourself? He can transfer what is owed the hospital to your account, can’t he?”
“He is the one that brought me here and should be the one to take me home”
“Why did he bring you here?
“He says I am depressed. But I am not.”
“Why does he think you are depressed?”
“It is because he thinks I spend too much time at the Church.”
“Do you spend a lot of time at the church?”
“ I have been called by God to start a ministry. Besides, I have nothing to do at home when everyone has gone out for the day.”
“By the way, how were you brought to this hospital?”
“My husband and his friends came to forcefully take me from the church where I was praying and praising God.”
“Do you have children?”
“Yes. Four of them”
“Are they with you at home?”
“Only one. The others are in boarding schools.”
“Do you have a job?
“No. I do business”
“What kind of business?
“I sell provisions”
“No where at the moment. I used to have a store on a street close to where I live. But I shut it down.”
“The street was afflicted by demons. Only one Hausa man runs a successful provisions store there. All other stores have packed up.”
“And God didn’t reveal the situation to you before you paid for a store there?”
“How did you get to know about the demons and their activities in the area?”
“Through prayers and fasting”
“Why have you not secured another place to do your business?”
“I am still looking for a safe place. Demons are everywhere. Besides, my husband is giving me a lot of problems and he makes me depressed”
“So you are depressed?”
“No. Am not. It is just that my husband and I are having problem in our marriage. And the doctors say we both need counselling.”
“Oh. Okay. So when do you think you will leave the hospital.”
“I don’t know. My husband is deliberately keeping me here under the pretence of being busy. He has really changed lately. But he doesn’t know that I know he is playing games with me.”
Two days later, three doctors came around to see her. I strained to hear what they were discussing but couldn’t as they were whispering.
A day after, a man showed up to see the woman.
“This is my husband,” said the woman.
He looked tired, unkept and sombre and was in no mood for an exchange of pleasantries. So I kept the greeting brief.
As they packed their stuff to leave, I offered to help them to their car. The man declined and they left.
I began to wonder if the man was really playing games or he had a mental health situation on his hands. Though the woman sounded pretty lucid in almost all of our conversations, I could pickup faint signs of mental illness. And that is the thing with mental illness. It is sometimes difficult to understand. A person can look hale and hearty yet be dying gradually within. It is worse when the afflicted, as in the case of this woman, can not process the reality of the experience. It is not something that can easily be vanquished by prayer and fasting either as many today believe. Things will only get worse as we have seen lately with so called “prayer house” rehabilitation centres across the country.
Betty Irabor, the glamorous publisher of Genevieve suffered from mental illness for years and twice attempted to commit suicide.
In her 2018 memoir, Dust to Dew, she wrote:
“‘Believe that you are healed and you are healed,’ ‘ it is a satanic attack that calls for deliverance and not therapy or anti-depressants.’ These statements are hogwash. Depression and other mental health challenges require professional attention and therapy. Seek help. I have no problems with prayers. There will be days you feel like God has abandoned you. But in the end you will understand that God does not lose battles.
There is a place for logic, there is a place for science, and there is a place for everything God has allowed to be invented. I have a problem with pastors who try to substitute therapy with prayers; pastors who try to convince their congregation that mental health is a spiritual affliction that requires spiritual deliverance. In my search for answers I have never allowed myself to fall into that trap. I have heard of some pastors whose children are going through mental health challenges but refuse to let them seek help because ‘children of God can’t be depressed.’”
The 167-page book is a mini handbook and an interesting eye opener on mental health issues. Everyone should read it.