‘Why I am passionate about mentally challenged people’

Veronica Ezeh, a psychiatric nurse, founder of Adicare Rehabilitation Home and polyglot in this encounter with YETUNDE OLADEINDE, speaks on her passion for the mentally challenged destitute, the role of drug abuse amongst youths and the loss of her six-year-old son to cancer.

Veronica Ezeh is a psychiatric nurse, a chief matron with the Yaba Psychiatric Hospital as well as the founder of Adicare Rehabilitation Home. The native of Imo State grew up in Kwara and Niger States. Her parents were travellers who were passionate about healing the sick whilst she was growing up.

Eze, who speaks a number of Nigerian languages uses this to have a smooth relationship with her patients and describes herself as a bonafide Nigerian citizen.

Even though she had been working on her passion for caring for those she describes as mentally challenged destitute on the fringes for some years, Eze got it registered, partly to ensure a society where there is no stigmatisation of his patients, as well as give them succour.

“We would be marking our anniversary by making donations, drugs, food, and other items to make life easy for people in this category.”

Scroll down memory lane and she takes you into her world and the things that influenced her interest in the sector.

“As a child, I always saw people stoning the mentally ill and that pricked my heart. That actually motivated me to be a nurse, to see what I could do to help them. After nursing, I had to go for my specialty and I chose psychiatry, which I studied at Aro, Abeokuta.

Asked what her experience was like at Aro and she replied this way: “As a student, it was just the normal school routine. We didn’t see it as anything. We saw it as fun, something you derive joy doing. We did the basic course for just one year. I had done my nursing at Bida, psychiatry at Aro, and then moved on to the Open University for my master’s in Public Health at Osogbo. I have been at Yaba Psychiatry since 1999 when I was employed but resumed in March 2020.”

Eze recalls the very first task she carried out with nostalgia. “The week I resumed, there was a philanthropist known as Dr, Abraham. He used to pick patients from the streets to psychiatric hospitals and I was one of the young nurses picked for the domiciliary services to pick them from the streets.”

However, by the time she got to the junction where she was to pick the patient, he was nowhere to be found. But instead of giving up, she decided to search further for others, with the aim of transforming their lives.

“I made up my mind that this man had paid the hospital and we should do our best to make the sick benefit from it. We went as far as Redeemed (Christian Church of God) camp, picking patients. At the end of the day, the hospital was able to reunite these patients with their families.”

That encouraged her as a young nurse and overtime she developed compassion for the mentally ill.

“I give them what I have. I started drawing near those in my locality. Gradually, I found that I could relate easily with them and a number of them took keen interest whenever I ask them questions. I also cared for them by providing water to bath and other things”

Eze said it got to a stage where, anytime they saw her passing by, some of them would go as far as trying to hug her, with onlookers gazing in disbelief.

For the Ezes of this world, it’s indeed a tough call; with many seeing people who care for this category of people as sometimes sharing their mannerisms. Does Eze agree with this?

“That is a fact. Everything is trending now. It is no more like what we had before. Even the management of mental illness has changed. Also, in the past when patients take the drugs, they usually looked unkempt and dull. Today, things have changed. Many bankers, commissioners, and others are on drugs and you won’t even know.”

Everything, she informed, has been transformed, including the people who work with them. “In 2014, I took more interest and decided that I want to work in the community. That was when I went to do my Masters in Public Health at the College of Medicine, Ladoke Akintola University and I rounded up in 2016.

It was during this period that Eze had a bouncing baby boy. It was a great joy to the family, but that joy soon turned sour. When the baby was about three months, she noticed that he was running a severe temperatures.

“It was infantile cancer but we didn’t come to diagnosis until he was four years old.”

When the case became so terminal, she ran around frantically, searching for help to save her dear son, Adika. “Lagos State government under Governor Akinwunmi Ambode intervened, offering some assistance. Unfortunately, he died while we were coming back from India. Just before he died, a week to his birthday, he asked me to make a very big cake to celebrate his birthday with everybody. He died 30th August, about two years now.”

It was a sad period for her. While mourning him, she wondered how best to celebrate and keep his memory alive. In one of her sober moments, she got an inspiration, which gave birth to an initiative. “I don’t have an interest in cancer; my passion is caring for people who are mentally ill, especially destitute. I forwarded his name for registration and it was accepted. As soon as I forwarded his name, it clicked.”

That was how Adicare Rehabilitation came to be. She explained: “I use it to celebrate the remembrance of Michelle. We do a lot of things there. These include advocacy, social support, Mercy Section, and the rehabilitation proper. Apart from advocacy, I create a number of information on pamphlets and collaborate by doing awareness programme in the community, churches, and with other stakeholders. I also tried to do a survey on the number of mentally ill people in the community but they are never stagnant – always on the move. We have not been able to collate the result yet. I have also collaborated with the youths in the community because of the increase in drug use. This year, we had a programme on February 26th and it was shortly after that that the Coronavirus pandemic started. We have also collaborated with the Lagos State Ministry of Education to create awareness on the causes and prevention of mental illness, with a focus on drug abuse.”

She continued: “We see a lot of people on the streets and we pick age bracket 13 to 19 years. We collaborate with the ministry to work with secondary schools and they gave us education district 5. This comprises four local government areas: Amuwo, Ojo, Ajeromi Ifelodun and Badagry.”

Her organisation covered all of these within one month, attending to 60 senior secondary schools. “In every local government, we had a center where students converged and we talked to them about the causes, prevention and act this as drama. There, we were able to see those already doing drugs. They were identified by those not involved in the habit. Some owned up themselves and there were also those who got into it because of peer pressure or family background.”

Some, she informed, were willing to quit but they did not have the motivation to do so. “At the school programme, they begged us to come back again. They agreed to form a club against drug abuse but because of Covid-19, we weren’t able to get back. We were also supposed to move to another education district.”

Asked how she funds the project, her simple answer was, “No funding yet.”

And then she added: “I do this because of the passion and interest. This also motivated me to do a course on prevention. As a drug preventive officer, I am into care, treatment, and rehabilitation. The building for the rehabilitation situated at Alagbado, Lagos, is ongoing. Under the rehabilitation, we also have the Mercy Section. This is mostly for the destitute. People for rehabilitation pay at an affordable rate and whatever we get here is used to support the destitute. Some have nowhere to go after recovery. At Yaba, we have people who have been here for about 50 years. We can’t even reach their families, because they have been abandoned. We have the occupational therapy section, where they learn one or two skills like shoe and umbrella repairs.”

Caring and showing them love makes recovery easier. You then wonder if there have been intermarriages among her patients.” Sure, they do. But it is usually not advisable. When we see them getting so close, we don’t allow it. This is because some can replicate themselves and affect the children from such relationships.”

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in the past few months, Eze added, is also a source of concern. “We see a lot of cases coming up. Many people have lost their jobs; many homes are going through difficult times. Also, the money in circulation is so meagre”.

One advantage that makes her relationship with the mentally ill patient and destitute easy is the fact that she speaks a variety of languages, thus making communication easy. “I have the advantage of languages and this makes it easier to get their attention. I can switch from Yoruba to Hausa, Nupe, Urhobo, and Igbo. Once you speak the language that they understand, they will always want to talk to you.”

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