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American medical student writes about her time in Benin

Nneka M. Nwosisi, MD, MPH, Medical Student, East Tennessee State University, Quillen College of Medicine, Mountain Home, Tennessee, USA

Dr. Nwosisi’s full article is published on page 15 of the Global Mental Health and Psychiatry Review, 2023

In 2022, I attended the APA conference and a talk about a campaign called ‘Treatment not Chains’ caught my attention. I listened to Mr. Grégoire Ahongbonon speak about his own journey as a patient, and how his unfortunate experiences, and cruel things he witnessed led to the start of St Camille Association. One of his most pivotal memories was seeing a man deemed as mentally ill abandoned and chained to a cross in the village. It took days for him to be unchained and weeks for him to become well again.

I grew up in Nigeria, so this type of mistreatment was not a foreign concept for me. Mental health remains a foreign concept in the places I call home, my country of birth and many communities around the world.

As a future psychiatrist with a strong interest in global health, I am grateful for the one-of- a-kind experience I had in Benin. I worked beside Dr. Nicole Ahongbonon and other health care workers at the treatment centers. I was in awe as I watched them treat patients like their own family. My goal was to get a glimpse on how to address global mental health challenges but along the way, I might have found the secret. The most exceptional and inspiring thing about this organization is their ability to preserve their patient’s dignity while they are being adequately cared for. Inhumane treatments in psychiatric settings and lack of social justice in our communities are sometimes common in Africa, and not at all uncommon in America and other parts of the world.