Schizophrenia: the ‘white man’s disease’

Schizophrenia: the ‘white man’s disease’


Schizophrenia: the ‘white man’s disease’

At the age of 16, Brian* was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was exuding the negative symptoms of the mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels and behaves. In Brian’s case he was showcasing reduced expression of emotions via facial expression or voice tone, reduced feelings of pleasure of everyday life, difficulty beginning and sustaining activities and reduced speaking.

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People with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality. The disease not being so common made his teachers think that Brian was just acting like any other rebellious form two student. This prompted the teacher to call his mother to come collect him from school terming him as “dangerous to fellow students and himself”.

“I saw my son and I literally broke down, he looked so dirty and unkempt, his hair was shaggy, bloodshot eyes and a very dirty uniform. He was seated in a very old, smelly latrine staring at nothing.” said Rosemary*, the mother.

She tried talking to him and he was not responding. The teachers confirmed that he has been like that for the past one week and he even walked out of his chemistry test considering that was his best subject.

The mother assumed the lack of a father figure at home was the cause and immediately sent him to his father who was working in Nakuru. After a week he was back in Nairobi with the father and they decided to take him for prayers and that did not seem to work for them. Few weeks later, they met a social worker who told them that the son might be suffering from schizophrenia, which made the mother lash out at the social worker claiming she was wishing evil on her son.

Symptoms of Schizophrenia

The symptoms of schizophrenia fall into three categories: positive, negative and cognitive. Positive symptoms are psychotic behaviors not generally seen in healthy people. People with these symptoms may lose touch with some aspects of reality. Symptoms include: hallucinations, delusions, thought disorders and movement disorders.

Negative symptoms are associated with disruptions to normal emotions and behaviours. Symptoms include: reduced expression of emotions via facial expression or voice tone, reduced feelings of pleasure of everyday life, difficulty beginning and sustaining activities and reduced speaking.

Cognitive symptoms include poor executive functioning, trouble focusing or paying attention and problems with working memory. It is not yet clear what causes schizophrenia though it has been considered to be genetic.

Dr. Josephine Omondi, a psychiatrist says that the awareness of the mental disorder is minimal because of the cultural and spiritual perspective. She also adds that other see it as witchcraft or some sort of punishment from the ancestors. When asked about people seeking treatment, she says that people are willing to get treatment after they have performed prayers and cultural cleansing and by then it is always too late. This is evident with how Brian’s mother was in denial when the social worker told them of the son’s condition.

According to Dr. Njuguna, a psychiatrist too, 1% of the Kenyan Population is suffering from schizophrenia and there is the Schizophrenia Foundation of Kenya dealing with cases of schizophrenia. The foundation has a program dubbed “The Reason of Hope” which has been able to reach over 30,000 Kenyans suffering from mental illnesses in Kenya. This is not specific to schizophrenia. The organization is also not known to many patients like Brian.


According to Brian the cost of treatment is costly, estimated at three thousand Kenyan shillings a week. 10 years down the line, he is still struggling to cope with his condition. This is because he does not have a permanent way of making a living so affording the drugs is expensive.

“I have no idea that there is an organization that deals with people who have my condition,” says Brian.

Though the organization exists, it doesn’t provide treatment but rather support. The parents are not as supportive terming his condition as a ‘white man’s disease’.

“They believe that black people are not affected by mental illnesses, so they have left me alone to dry, with no emotional support,” Says Brian.

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