Yesterday we visited a St. Camille center outside of Cotonou. We were greeted at the door by a crowd of some twenty patients clapping "Bon arrive chers amis, bon arrive mes amis." Welcome dear friends. What a beautiful welcome!
We joined about 150 patients and family members, in a large cement room as Grégoire and Dr. Benoit Desroches of Quebec discussed mental illness. Grégoire emphasized the need to change attitudes about mental health. Dr. Desroches discussed the causes of mental illness pointing out it was not contagious or due to supernatural causes. Many of the patients stood up and told their stories of struggling with mental illness and relapses. There was a lot of discussion, and even a call and response chant, about the importance of taking one's medication and staying on the treatment plan. We saw how important art and music are to the rehabilitation process at St. Camille and met many young and creative people who are contributing to these processes.
With most of the staff at the center, including the director, being former patients who have their illness under control, the culture at the center is one in which mental illness is viewed without stigma as a challenge of daily life like any other.