Her name is Zoe and she says she is 22 years of age. Her broad face and inquiring eyes plead for help but, in a society that blames mental illness on either actions by family members or a curse in the family line, Zoe does not seem to have any hope for recovery.
No one is sure when her mental illness began, but few who were willing to offer some information claimed that Zoe’s tragedy started when she was about to graduate from high school a few years ago.
“It was her stepmother that caused her insanity,” claims a woman who stood among the crowd of bystanders with some interest in Zoe’s condition. “Since that time she has never been herself.”
Zoe, who could not explain her condition because she has lost touch with reality, seems to have accepted her situation and is living with it. People, mostly women, stare at her as she walks about central Monrovia with no particular place in mind.
A closer look at Zoe tells that she does not eat regularly. Her neck bones are prominent, and she does not complain because she does not have to.
“She is like an animal,” admitted another woman, “I feel sorry for her in such a horrible condition.”
Whether Zoe can be helped to regain her sanity and function as a normal human being capable of caring for herself and others are questions that not many in Monrovia, particularly in the medical community, were able to answer.
The Ministry of Health & Social Welfare is the government’s agency responsible for ensuring that Liberian citizens in such calamity have a center to care for them.
“Not enough funds are allocated by the Liberian government to ensure that such people are removed from the streets and cared for,” said an official from the Ministry of Health who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak for the ministry.
He said such people can be helped by being removed from the streets, but only if the government will allocate enough money to do so. “We are operating with nothing right now so there is not much we can do,” he said.
The center where those with mental problems are helped is located on Duport Road, Paynesville, outside Monrovia.
“Do you know any of her family members?” was a question posed to me by a mental health official in a telephone conversation yesterday. “Such a person will have to be held for several months and some fees for registration and feeding are needed,” the official added.
Meanwhile, Zoe sat at her corner, looking a bit troubled. She held in her hands a notebook and a pen, and from time to time she would scribble from memory verbs in a row of verticle lines of four or five.
She was in a serious mood, suggesting she was not interested in talking; and every nudge for her to open up proved unsuccessful.
Beside her is a black plastic bag with some items, maybe clothes, in it. As the gathering increased during my brief encounter with Zoe, and as many people began to hypothesize what might have caused her mental illness, she lifted her head to stare at the gathering and gradually lifted herself off the ground, grabbed her bag and slowly walked away.
“Too young to be allowed to waste away,” another bystander, this time a man, said. “But in this country many young people have wasted away.”
Anyone who knows about Zoe’s relatives should please call 0777-458-730 for further discussions about providing help for a young woman who may waste away if urgent help is not forthcoming.