Mentally Disabled and Neglected

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I watched a woman of about 50 yearsold bend over and pick up a rotten item wrapped in old plastic. She looked confused.

Talking loudly as if in a conversation with someone, she began slapping her face and gnawing at whatever was in the wrapper. Her actions seemed odd.

I couldn't watch any longer and decided to help her the best way I could. So I fed her. I started by giving her a sandwich I normally give the homeless people I see sitting on the streets of Monrovia everyday. Two loaves of bread, ketchup, sausages and mayonnaise make up my sandwiches.

At first, I was startled by her appearance. She reeked from years of not taking a bath and her teeth were as brown as varnished wood.

After observing her closely and coming to terms that she was mentally ill, I decided she deserved help – every facility, medication and support someone with a mental disability is entitled to.

I told her "I'm your friend yah, I want to help you," I petted.

"My daughter," she spoke hastily, "I found a place and will be moving there," answering as if I wasn't there.

"Everyday I'll bring you food and soda y’hear," I told her. I learned from experience that sharing food with homeless people on the streets helps them open up to you.

The women stared at me for what seemed like five minutes, something she hadn't done since I approached her.

With something like admiration and a flicker of hope and life, she flashed a smile that had faded from years of poor hygiene and nutrition.  In her eyes I saw hope.

"Thank you dear. I remember you now," she smiled until a drop of spit slid through an open space where a tooth used to be.

Meanwhile, as I walk the streets of Monrovia searching for the homeless and mentally disabled, I've discovered that there are over 15 of them blankly passing in the streets.

With every passing day, they are left to battle a psychotic or psychological problem that has affected them sometimes for many years. Categorized as 'crazy' and 'mad', the mentally disabled are neglected and often seen as a threat to society because no one knows what placed them on the streets or if their condition is due to witchcraft.

A man who calls himself John spends his entire day wandering and scratching the rashes that have covered his entire body. He doesn't talk much and moans in pain whenever his hand is unable to reach an area on his body that needs scratching. He's at the point he doesn't wear clothes because they irritate his skin.

He has never explained to me why he's on the streets, nor has he said more than six words to me since I've been feeding him. And it's been four months.

James, who has multiple names but seems to use James more often, feels that being homeless led to his mental problems.

"I live down there but every time I go home they drive me. It makes me angry. I use to be a school teacher in the Ministry of Finance building," he claims.

Although he claims to be fine, he reads storms of written words from a notebook that he writes in to anyone who will listen to him in front of the gates to the Ministry of Finance. Employees, visitors of the Ministry of Finance and others passing by James never pay him much attention.

Usually after every conversation with James, he usually takes my hand and asks me for something 'special'.

"Here you are James, I will help you" I always say each time I give him something to eat or wear.

Mental illness has become a serious problem in Liberia, particularly Monrovia. The mentally disabled pollute the streets with defecation, piles of garbage that some carry around and cause those who see them to panic. Some even roam around naked unaware of the commotion or offense they cause.

A lot of Liberians are affected by mental problems that come from stress, frustration, depression, death of a loved one, neglect, illness and many other situations. Most people who are affected are unaware and will never seek help and with time, their conditions get out of hand.

JT Money, who involuntarily departed from the United States six years ago, appears to be mentally disturbed. Before he returned, JT was diagnosed as being bipolar and depressive. He was prescribed a medication called Prozac and had been in treatment for 12 years before his return.

According to his cousin Manny, JT hid his condition from relatives in Liberia upon his arrival and never took his medication. Unaware that JT had relapsed, JT began dancing on the streets of Caldwell. “That’s how it started, small, small.”

Manny says at one point, JT’s began foaming at the mouth, his eyes turned red and he became a threat to community dwellers.

"Instead of us helping him, we tied him one night five years ago and sent him to a woman who prays," Manny added, "He became mad and we had to do it," he explained.

Now, JT has been locked away in the remote parts of White Plains for the past four years and has yet to see a mental health doctor.

"Our family doesn't have time to help him. We prefer they tie him and keep him in one place," said Manny.

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