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Conflict and Mental Health Issues: After fleeing violent conflict in the North West Region, Julienne Namata struggles against mental health issues.

27 septembre 2018

After the abduction of her husband by unkown gunmen and the rise of violence in the North West Region of Cameroon, Julienne Namata suffered a long period of depression which almost led her to an acute state of mental illness.

Most of the time, people associate madness to occultism, witchcraft or some form of ill luck. Whereas, I discovered that if care wasn’t taken in my case, I would have gone mad, roving naked on the streets like others.”

These are the words of Julienne, a 48 years old secondary school teacher who drowned in a moment of depression after the abduction of her husband in February 2018 in Batibo, North West Region of Cameroon. As a resident of Batibo, a town in the crisis stricken regions of Cameroon, Julienne lived with her husband and ten children under their care aged between 8 and 23 years.

In the heart of the crisis, her husband was abducted by unknown gun men without leaving any traces or information till date. This abduction was the trigger of an intensified confrontation between armed forces in the area, causing many to flee the town.

“The gunshots were so loud, so close and so hard that my children and I were constantly in a state of fear, pressure and worry. We usually slept on the floor in the corridors hoping to escape from stray bullets. We could not bear this environment anymore.”

The intensified armed confrontation led to the destruction of some health facilities as well as the shutting down of schools, causing both health personnel and teachers to flee.

 “The town was getting empty. I didn’t know where to go for safety. I was worried, my children weren’t going to school and my husband was nowhere to be found.”

                         

About two weeks after her husband’s abduction, Julienne, still clueless about his where about, left Batibo for Yaounde, the country’s capital, with the ten children she had under her care. A 470kilometers  escape journey, taken by night, in search of refuge. There, she stayed at her sister-in-law’s house in a very precarious situation with very limited space, food and resources for her big family.

“I used to think a lot. Being idle made me reflect and it traumatized me more. I realized I became violent with my children; I would answer them very rudely.”

After a few months spent in Yaounde with still no news of her husband and fruitless attempts to get more information, Julienne began witnessing the first symptoms of her mental health situation.

“I began feeling itches all over my body but no matter how much I scratched myself, I didn’t find relief. I also felt as though someone had poured ants on me and I would hit my body tirelessly but the sensation wouldn’t subside. It became worse when I began having a sharp pain in my head and another from the sole of my feet right up to my waist. Sometimes, I suffered from memory loss.

After due consultations, Julienne finally met a psychiatrist who, after follow up, put her under medication and walked her through her healing process. “I was almost getting mad. I didn’t know what all the thinking and worry was doing to me.”

At the Jamot Hospital, Yaounde, a psychiatrist, Dr. Menguene attested of the fact that Julienne’s situation would have evolved from a depression to a more chronic mental illness if she had delayed her coming to the hospital.

“This trauma could have spread through her family and affected both her children and any other relative around her because they too were suffering from her state. It is a bad cycle.”

The present rise of violence in the Regions of the North West and the South West have affected many be they victims or witnesses of violence. Many, despite the healing of their wounds are left with deep psychological trauma requiring immediate attention. The situation is even more alarming for women and girls who have survived any forms of Gender Based Violence, a phenomenon on the rise in this time of crisis.

It is with the aim of bringing relief to these women and girls in conflict zones that the UNFPA, during the Second Edition of Cameroon Mental Health Days, reiterated its engagement in supporting the government of Cameroon, through the Ministry of Public Health, in an intensified action in the domain.