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Nkem DenChukwu: Castaways – Imagine the Plight of People Living with Mental Health Illnesses in Nigeria



Nkem DenChukwuImagine being hungry and having no hope of eating. Can you imagine that from the point of view of a child or an elderly living alone in a ramshackle bin?

Imagine the throbbing, aching painfulness a mother feels watching her child fighting hunger pains? And, she knows she could never find anything edible, in the immediate vicinity, for the child to eat…to quench that piercing hunger pangs, gnawing inside her child’s guts. You wonder whose pain is greater: the child or the mother watching with heavy eyes and a broken heart.

Imagine if all of these were unfolding in the high pitch of a biting winter, and the child & mother were inside the very rigors of a full bore chill because they have no heat in the dilapidating shack.

Can you comprehend that? Would you discard everything you know about self-preservation and comfort, to embark on a crazy idea that puts your life in danger? If you can’t, then imagine those of them that are unfortunate, and have somehow managed to pass through the severities of an unfortunate existence on a daily grind.

In many African countries, mental illness and those that suffer from it have inadvertently dishonored the families they come from. It’s seen a stigma. The notion of someone being mentally challenged is a hard pill to swallow for many. Taboos and strict cultural devotion, coupled with bad policies, or lack thereof of the great policies, are contributors to the shame the bearers of this illness suffer. In the old days, they were cast away, as were done twins, abandoned in the forest colonized by predators and scavengers…left to rot in shrines of gods made out of muds. Imagine having to be naked, shackled, and then left, actually dumped, in the middle of nowhere…in the internal, smoky, damp grounds of a tropical rainforest to appease sculptured images of deities.

There is a fine line between craziness and psychosis. The latter could drift into a degenerative state, becoming organic in its decaying patterns. But, with sheer craziness, you have a practitioner in deliberate actions in most instances; they wallow, or rise glowingly, with a brand of iniquities in their comportment foreign to most. That is not what is applicable in this passage. One doesn’t have to be roaming the streets naked for you to know he has lost his mind.

In Nigeria for instance, it is normal to see ‘Mad People’ as they are casually called, roaming the streets, unkempt, hungry, sick, pregnant, and in many cases, naked. They eat from dumpsters…scavenging bins and compost grounds for a bite. Sometimes you see their dead bodies on the roadsides, covered in sores and a dark cloud of flies and other millennial bugs. And there is a government of people watching…actually, looking the other way, rather than finding compelling solutions to the misfortunes of society.

Children are not excluded from this group of social misfits. One must ask the obvious question; who gets these women of pregnant in the first place? You’d be surprised to know the answer to that. It boggles the mind because the perpetrators are on Sanity Road: They are the Kings of Beats…Jazzy in their deportments…the designers of the newer forms of suavity…the Don Juans of Cool Street, who would wait for night to come before they would swagger out of their bland personas to unveil their dark sides. They know where to find them; in the dark recesses of alleyways and dead-ends. Here, the nearly satanic ritual of an engagement would begin; the coition from hell, the unholy union of corruption and innocence would absorb themselves in a macabre dance…in the dirtiest form of sex. And these, clean-cut Dapper Fellows truly believe that there are things they can get raping nature when she was in her most vulnerable; money and power for one, and the possibility of a longer life was the other. Go figure! These prowlers take advantage of the downright maniacal on selfish reasons.

When there’s an abnormal change in the behavior of an individual, family members dismiss these changes, and sometimes would rule the strange behavior as the effects originating from black magic. On the other hand, for the family that would try to find help, the lack of money becomes a hindrance. Therefore, that professional evaluation and treatment they are looking for would not be attained. It is always a shameful experience for most of these families. They would resort to the banal way; the visitation with a voodoo priest or priestess…with a wand, reputed in their ability to cast evil spirits away from stricken people. This is always the family’s last chance to render any kind of help to their loved one. They usually failed…woefully, of course.

Many mental illnesses can be managed and improved with therapies and medications. The shortages of specialized medicine…the kinds of medical professionals that service the mind are seriously lacking in most third world countries. The bulk of medical practice is in pathology…not in psychology. But, it is changing.

It is a wonder how certain beliefs, and this combination of half-baked loyalties mangle the mind of those you think should know better. And with the inaction of most governments in third world nations, the damnation will continue to prevail in very vast measures among her people. For those who believe thus; that when one is cursed, one must therefore see a true practitioner in the business of Hex removal, the path to eradicate these impractical beliefs therefore becomes harder to achieve.
That is the annoyance that hampers all other efforts to dump old age beliefs for new constructions.

Nkem DenChukwu is a bonafide creative writer and filmmaker. In 2019, she became Houston Literary Awards - Reader’s Choice Winner. She delved into the arts of filmmaking and creative writing in 2012, and has since then, written 7 inspirational books for children, teens, and young adults. Nkem has produced 14 indie films in Texas. In 2018, she was featured in Forbes (Digital Edition) while five of her creative verses have been featured in Oprah Winfrey Magazine. Nkem was a Huffington Post Contributor. For more details on Nkem DenChukwu’s work, visit  


  1. Sonya

    November 2, 2016 at 3:07 pm

    This article started off well but quickly degenerated to poetic prose that was difficult to follow.
    And did anyone else see “Don Jazzy” in the encoding of this script or is it just me? LMAO

  2. Nkem DenChukwu

    November 2, 2016 at 3:31 pm

    Hello Sonya, “They are the Kings of Beats…Jazzy in their deportments…the designers of the newer forms of suavity…the Don Juans of Cool Street…” FYI, Don Juan is a satiric poem by Lord Byron, based on the legend of Don Juan. However, not understanding the “poetic prose” in this piece doesn’t make it “degenerated.”

  3. Ijs

    November 3, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    Sonya! There’s no need for me to type anything you’ve said it all

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