During the long course of treatment my brother received for his mental illness, he was not only given an array of medicines - medicines that, as I pointed out last week, often seemed to keep him in a stupor. He was also subjected to electro-convulsive therapy.This involves passing electricity at controlled voltages through the patient's brain. I found the very idea of this extremely disturbing. Hadn't he already suffered enough? Horrible images of ancient tortures flashed across my mind. I imagined my brother being electrocuted, his body jumping in the air from the shocks administered by strangers.
At times I was deeply dissatisfied with the treatment my brother was given, as it seemed to cause him pain without achieving much.But I was probably being unfair: perhaps I wanted something or someone to blame for the state my brother was in. In retrospect I am so grateful for the support and care that the medical staff provided whenever my brother really needed it. Eventually he made a full recovery and was able to leave the hospital and come home again.
Now my brother is back - truly and fully back. He is healthy, drives a car, and has a job and a mobile phone just like any other normal person in England. What happened to my brother has changed the way I think about mental illnesses and the people who suffer from them. Circumstances have forced to think long and hard.
Currently I live in China and work as a teacher. I love what I do and I enjoy the townswheresI teach, but sometimes I witness things here that horrify me. I have seen people who are obviously mentally ill just walking the streets. This calls up bad memories that then haunt me.
For example, there is a man who lives outside our college.He is 'ill'. This poor soul has no home and no family that I know of, and no one talks to him, apart from himself. He wanders up and down the road, up and down, up and down, day after day. His hair is matted, his clothes are tattered and mysteriously he is often covered in white chalk. Occasionally I have noticed him eating out of dustbins. He has nothing. I once wanted to give him a glass of milk, but a student of mine would not allow me to, explaining that it would be wholly unsuitable behaviour on my part to offer him anything. Not wishing to cause offence, I gave up the idea.It is awkward when you are living among people with a different culture and you honestly don't know what the right thing to do is. In England it would be laudable to give food and drink to someone who needs it.
The young man who walks the streets is very ill; the signs are clear. He does not function like a normal healthy person, yet it's as if no one cares. Does no one care?Are people truly indifferent? When I walked past him last week, he was sleeping in the road. I watched amazed—no one tried to move him.To my eyes this was an accident just waiting to happen. I asked my student about the situation and she justified it by saying the man was crazy. I asked her why no one helps him. She replied that the best thing for him was to walk. Walking, she said, would fill his days. After witnessing what my brother went through, I find it impossible to share this attitude. I speak from experience. I know with certainty that support and understanding are far more helpful than walking for someone in this state.
Yet this indifference to the plight of the mentally incapacitated is not the whole picture.At our college there is also a small boy who has mental disabilities. I have never seen him attend school with the other children but I do often see him strolling around the campus in the evenings with his grandparents. Obviously he is cared for by his family with love and devotion.He doesn't have to walk the streets. He is fortunate: when he walks, someone walks with him.