By Ntsebeng Motsoeli
MASERU — Nineteen years ago, Motlalentoa Kopo was arrested by the military police after he was accused of stealing some army uniform. The arrest and detention during that tempestuous period in Lesotho’s history left him seriously traumatised. In 2007, in yet another period of political turbulence, he was arrested again. This time what he went through left him a broken man.
Kopo says he was arrested for allegedly stealing some military guns and giving them to members of the then opposition All Basotho Convention party. His wife, ’Mamoneuoa, a teacher at a local high school, was also arrested. The two were however later acquitted of the charges. Kopo says they went through hell during that period. He says the events left them seriously depressed and had to seek professional therapy. On Wednesday, as Kopo addressed a gathering at the Mohlomi Psychiatric Hospital to celebrate World Mental Health Day, it was difficult to believe the former army officer had in the past suffered from depression.
“We had to have depression therapy with my wife because of the accusations and the arrests,” Kopo told the audience.
“My condition was bad. I wanted to be in isolation. I hated people’s company. I would sleep all the time. My doctor had my gun confiscated fearing that I might harm myself or people around me.” But things have changed for the better for him and his wife, thanks to care and treatment they received from Mohlomi Psychiatric Hospital, he says. “My wife and I are now back to our normal selves because of the care and support we received from the counsellors at this hospital. I sometimes cannot believe that it is me opening up and talking to other people.
“I had stopped talking to anyone. I cannot thank the counsellors enough for what they did for me and my wife.”
Speaking at the same occasion, Health Minister Dr Pinkie Manamolela, said mental health issues should be addressed with care. She says most cases of depression that cause mental illnesses in Lesotho are a result of marital woes. Women are the most affected, she says. “Depression is a serious issue in Lesotho and across the world. In Lesotho troubled marriages have been identified as the main cause of depression.
“More women suffer from depression than men. About 350 million people around the world have depression. Suicides and attempted suicides are on the rise due to depression,” she says. She says that this is cause for concern in Lesotho where there is shortage of psychiatric doctors. “There is a shortage of psychiatric doctors in Lesotho. We therefore urge students to study psychiatry to address the shortage. The ministry should also initiate prevention programmes so that we can deal with mental illnesses in early stages before too much damage is done.”
Lebina Lebina, a senior officer in the mental health department, says little attention has been given to mental health issues in Lesotho. Lebina says his department has been treated like an outcast, so much that their needs are the last to be addressed.
“Our department has been neglected over the years. We are the last ones to be considered among departments that need assistance of any kind. “We have been living in depression ourselves yet we are supposed to help those who are depressed. We are an important department and we should also be given priority,” Lebina says.
World Health Organisation country representative, Dr Jacob Mufunda, says that depression can be detected early and treated effectively if one gets the support they need. “People can resume their normal lives if depression is seen and treated early. It can even be treated primarily without drugs. If seen and treated early we can then beat stigmatisation,” Mufunda says.
World Mental Health Day, which is supported by the United Nations, is held annually on October 10 to raise public awareness about mental health issues worldwide.