Today marks World Mental Health Day which looks to highlight mental health issues around the world.

Leprosy and lymphatic filariasis (LF) do not physically affect the mind but the experience of being affected by one of these neglected diseases can have a detrimental impact on mental health.

Disability and mental health

Leprosy and LF, if not treated and caught early enough can bring about disabilities and deformities. These can have a massive impact on a person’s mental health making them feel ashamed, embarrassed and insecure.

Sometimes, inflamed limbs or loss of sensation can also prevent those individuals affected from getting around. This can make earning a living and even performing everyday tasks, such as eating and dressing, difficult to do. Having to rely on family members can make people feel like a burden and often this leads to feelings of depression.

Stigma and mental health

Anastasia Bow-Bertrand recently completed her Masters in Global Health and Development at University College London and visited our projects in Bangladesh to research mental health among people affected by leprosy. Through a series of interviews and group activities she found that many affected by leprosy had been alienated – in every sense – with associated trauma that had an effect on mental health.

This is not surprising given the way many affected by leprosy or LF are treated by family and community members. A lack of knowledge about these diseases can mean people are afraid and ostracise those affected despite there being a cure available for leprosy.

Komola was thrown out of her home by her husband when he found out she had leprosy. She was left to beg and now relies on her brother to support her.

Rahima lived on the streets with her baby son after her husband abandoned her. She struggled to provide for herself and her son and eventually he died of pneumonia.

Being isolated, abandoned and treated badly by the people closest to you can have an extremely negative affect on a person’s state of mind. They can often become depressed and, feeling like there’s nothing to live for, some want to end their own lives.

In the video below you can hear the story of a man whose experience with leprosy was so severe that he looked to end his own life.

“Intending to go under a moving train I sat on the railway tracks. Some people stopped me and carried me off.”

How can we help?

By educating remote and rural communities on what the diseases are, what they look and like and where to go for help we reduce the likelihood of individuals being cast out and made to feel such harsh stigma.

Anastasia’s research shows that self-help groups can also make a difference. These groups bring people together who have been affected by leprosy and LF. Here they can talk about their experiences and that feeling of having others who can relate can relieve some of the burden. 

These groups also provide small loans so that individuals can start to earn a living by starting a new venture. This helps to tackle the psychosocial impact of leprosy-related disabilities by allowing those individuals to reintegrate into society and feel financial self-sufficient reducing those feelings of depression.

Just £16 can allow a new group of people to start up a self-help group providing them with all the materials they need. As well as helping them to earn a living you could be helping to improve their mental health.

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