Every 10th of October, memories of my experience in Peru working with people who were mentally ill comes to the fore. Those years were a privileged time for me because I was able to hear, see and hold the sacred stories of individuals and their loved ones coping with the ordeal of mental illness.
Though mental illness is considered a long-term illness, unfortunately it is often neglected in health care and it doesn’t get the attention it merits. The sad reality is that in the developing world, psychiatric services are often sidelined.
We are living in a very unjust world! The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated that. While in some countries people are already receiving their second booster dose of the vaccine, millions of people in developing countries haven’t even received their first dose. The pandemic has affected us all in many ways. No one was prepared for it. It has been a time of so much uncertainty and much soul-searching. We were ushered into this situation without wanting it – into a liminal space.
We can relate to Fr. Richard Rohr’s observation: “We grapple from leaving and entering into a new way of being and we are hesitant to step into an open space of threshold that leads to nowhere.” Many times I found it challenging to accept this invitation to pause and let things be, when the circumstances and the reality around me demanded the opposite.
Lately, I have noticed that the number of beggars has increased. I see the faces of children, young people, women, men and older people – as well as the physically and mentally challenged. Today, I went to the market to buy fruit and some essential things for our house. I was surrounded quickly by more than five people, begging for food and medicine. I could see the desperation in their eyes, their emaciated look – they were in pain and hungry. To start giving the fruit to them would cause ten more to immediately appear.
I felt ashamed and so uncomfortable, carrying away the food and not sharing with them as I wanted to. In a way I was grateful that I was wearing a face mask so as to hide my shame, frustration, and the tears in my eyes. I know that billions of our brothers and sisters have been pushed to the margins, the forgotten, hungry victims of our unjust world. Every one of us has a responsibility to address these disparities. It will take a concerted effort by organisations, humanitarian groups, small initiatives and individuals.
In my own little way, I can only embrace my helplessness, vulnerability and frustration in the light of faith. I trust God to give me the wisdom and the grace to offer love and compassion to those around me who are suffering and in great need. As we celebrate the World Mental Health Day, let us remember in a special way people who are suffering from mental health issues and those who are suffering from all forms of inequality. May we continue to be more conscious of how we live and strive to promote life around us knowing how interconnected we all are. Let us live by Mahatma Gandhi’s aphorism: “To live simply so that others may simply live.”
Sr. Anne Carbon is from Cayagan de Oro, Mindanao, in the Southern Philippines. She studied nursing before she joined the Columbans and has a particular interest in the field of mental health. She has served on mission in Peru and Pakistan.