Family struggles to care for mentally ill relative

Sometimes families don't have the resources to care for mentally ill relatives.
Sometimes families don't have the resources to care for mentally ill relatives.

A concerned family of a disabled and mentally ill patient, Mpheane Sape (64), says they are left staggered after doctors refused to admit him into an institution.

Sape’s sister, Mpule Letsie, from Khopho Village outside Tzaneen says her brother's mental problems began in 2000 and deteriorated after he was involved in a car accident in 2013. They couldn't place him in a care facility after doctors refused to sign a form provided by a social worker to have him referred to Life Esidimeni.

Crawling around the village

“He refuses to take his medication; he [spits it] out every time we try [to give it to him]. Last year we approached a social worker at Lesedi Thusong Centre on what can we best do in this situation and she gave us form and referred us to Letaba Hospital for doctors to sign [to] have him transferred to Shiluvane (Life Esidimeni), but they refused. They said that he doesn’t qualify to be admitted there, but… there are people like him who are placed there,” Letsie says.

“[It] is not that we want to get rid of him. What we want is for him to get better to a point where he can be able to take his medication. We think that if can be admitted and get professional [help] just for while it would help him regain his health."

Sape is often found crawling and wandering around the village, collecting garbage, which according to Letsie, he burns inside his room at night together with his clothes.

“He is not only [a] danger [to himself], but [to] all of us. He collects plastics and burns [it] inside his room. He burns his clothes and beds. And now his room doesn’t have door because he burned it. Every day there is a smoke coming out of his room. So far, he burned four beds and whenever you give him clothes, he burns [them] at night. We are afraid that he will burn himself one day,” she says.


According to Letsie, they also have to deal with the community’s misconception that they have deserted him.

“And from a distance, people think we are neglecting him or we don’t take care of him, but we just don’t know what to do and our efforts to ask for professional help haven’t materialised. We have tried to take away his wheelchair to minimise his movement but he will just crawl to wherever he wants to go and when people see that, they say we are not taking care of him. [The] department of health must assist us because we have nowhere to turn,” says Letsie.

No need to be admitted, doctors say

Provincial health spokesperson, Neil Shikwambana says doctors opted to treat Sape as an outpatient.

“When a person is brought to the hospital for mental health issues, a mental health assessment is done by three doctors. If the assessment by all three doctors agrees that the patient has insight, [then a patient isn't admitted]. On the patient in question, all the three [doctors] agreed unanimously that he has insight, and therefore cannot be admitted or referred, but treated as an outpatient.” Shikwambana says.

“Families of mental health care users need to understand that they also have a role to play in caring for the patients. We call on them to play that role as opposed to leaving them to the sole care of the department,” he says.

– Health-e News

Image credit: iStock

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