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Opinion | Poor fools

This week they were busy on the show Hoy por Hoy of the Cadena Ser of the homeless; they spoke of those pedestrians, not many, who stop to look at them or ask how they are. To report on the situation in Madrid, they invited the psychiatrist Rafael Fernández, head of the Mental Health Street Team of the Clinical Hospital, one of those pedestrians who does stop and ask. About 600 people, he said, are in such a situation in the capital of Spain, and he specified that before there were 800. Something is going to get better, it seems. “30% of these people,” he added, “suffer from a serious mental disorder, but if we focus on alcoholism or addictions that cause behavioral disorders, then they are already 80%.” Various percentages on human beings lying next to our houses, like autumn leaves, in parks, sidewalks or in those well-sheltered corners that bank ATMs usually shelter. Some of those 400 million people classified as “neurological problems” by the World Health Organization, which has a plan until 2020, but without much more being specified.

This autumn reference reminded me of Berlin, where I cycled through large areas not long ago for various reasons. I saw more homeless than ever. There is a prototype of a long-term vagabond, generally alcoholic, common in German cities. But it was not the case. These were sober. How the effect had to be ruled out last bits of summer temperature, I returned to the same places at different times, and even at sunset (many homeless they leave the shelters early and return at night) and on alternate days. And there they were. They know well what is happening in Berlin: many are foreigners, refugees or stranded immigrants. There they are, dressed with a thousand garments on top; hats covering their faces and with all their belongings accumulated in those metal supermarket trolleys that are like a metaphor for Western consumption of all products, including the loss of direction. Germany received in the last two years more than a million refugees due to the Syrian crisis. And it shows (added to the migratory pressure from the East). In Spain, however, a country that took on 17,337 in the subsequent European distribution, has barely welcomed 2,190 according to data from the day before yesterday.

Listening to Dr. Fernández at SER, I remembered the smile of one of these so-called “crazy people” in another context. One, walking one day through the beautiful district of the Medina of Dakar (Senegal), transistor in hand, calling out loudly to all passersby. A well-known graffiti artist from the city, who was accompanying us and participating in a beautiful artistic project on the walls of the neighborhood, upon seeing him go by, asked Western journalists to take care of them. “There are many in Africa. They are the last link in the chain, the remains, the garbage … ”, he said. We write it down on the agenda. And that’s it. The forgotten of the forgotten, this is how the program of La Noche Tematica de La 2 called a documentary on the subject a few years ago.

As the streets of the poorest continent are usually full of all kinds of patients, neurological patients should be seen much less in that context. Many are mistreated, we know that. But many times this is not the case, and we do not adequately report it in the media: many communities in Africa are cohesive and very supportive and yes, they tend to see them, feed them and take care of them however they are and with what little they have. Obviously this is not enough. If talking about mental health in developed countries refers to tragedy, in developing countries, which do not have the minimum basic care services, it refers to drama with medieval overtones.

These crazy they wander (more men than women; they usually isolate themselves or take refuge) from one place to another, they talk non-stop one day and remain quiet and mute another, when depression rages. They go crazy from illness but also from grief, fear, despair or loneliness … Their looks, their bodies express how much they have suffered or seen, what has never been told. Extremely hard lives from start to finish. We know that some 30 million Africans (many, citizens of the poorest and most troubled countries on Earth) suffer from depression and that repairing broken minds is not only expensive but often impossible to practice without adequate health systems, without funds. And less so in conflict-ridden areas, such as northern Nigeria ravaged by Boko Haram terrorism. Or how it happened in Sierra Leone, after the war: disoriented beings everywhere, a few hospitals or asylums where some victims were treated: child soldiers forced to kill their families, girls violated, mutilated; women and men with everything lost.

It is a terrible evil to lose your mind being poor. It is, and very often, to do it after experiencing a misfortune, a catastrophe, a war. But there are also sick people due to chronic food needs, violence and constant abuse, the loss of loved ones … A few days ago we published an article in Planeta Futuro entitled How to address the mental health of refugees following a meeting of emergency psychologists held in Serbia to deal with what, internal and devastating, that destroys the souls of so many people: flee, lose everything, get exposed … Refugees that abound ( more than 65 million according to UNHCR) today more than ever since the end of World War II. Peace guarantees many things, including community, citizen and individual mental health.

That there are not enough psychologists on the street or on the warpath (if you prefer) was the conclusion of a conference held a few months ago by the College of Psychologists of Andalusia. Fragility, vulnerability is intrinsic to our heart and mind. “One thinks that this cannot happen to you”, was heard in the waves of the BEING … You wait.

But sometimes it is enough with a bad political decision that encourages insecurity or ignites a conflict; with an unexpected turn of the economic life; with a break in luck or health … It is enough that the network that protected you since childhood is disappearing. Let the break and loneliness come. That is too many times the biography of those who live in the open. Last October 10 was International Mental Health Day, but we didn’t stop long to look.