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Health & Fitness

Early stages of a psychotic illness

sleeping
Some patients will sleep all-day, but watch TV all-night while avoiding some places. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

My nephew recently ran away from school claiming some evil spirits were after him, especially in the hall of residence. I find this rather weird because he says he is fine in other parts of the school including the tuition blocks and play fields. In the dormitory he feels being haunted. What may be matter here?

It is possible that your nephew is in the early stages of a psychotic illness and you must get him to a doctor as soon as possible.

Assuming he is in secondary school and perhaps in Form IV, a number of possible explanations can be floated but only the examining doctor can tell you what is going on.

Towards the end of last year, we saw two students who had similar symptoms to your nephew.

The first was in a boarding school near Nairobi, and he claimed that there were evil spirits placed near the dining hall. At first, the matter was laughed off by the school authority who forced him to go to the dining hall. He would go to the dining hall, pretend to eat and run back to his room. When he began to lose weight, the school took the matter more seriously and began to bring his food to his dorm.

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Soon, he found this arrangement unacceptable, and refused to eat because the food was cooked in a kitchen where evil spirits had domain.

The school bent backwards to accommodate him, and arranged to have one of the teachers cook for him.

This worked for a few days but he “discovered” that the food had been to the kitchen with the evil spirits.

The boy continued to lose weight, but because he was a top student, the school was determined to keep him in school.

In time, he became even more bizarre. He avoided any boy who he knew had been in the dining area. He took to the Bible and said many prayers during the day and at night. He spent many hours in the school Chapel and when he spent three nights in prayer the headteacher called his parents who took him to a mental health specialist.

When he was seen by the psychiatrist, he was admitted to hospital at once. The history was as clear as it was simple. An 18-year-old top student who had, over a period of six months, developed a bizarre behaviour that was out of character. This history told it all.

During the August holidays, the mother noticed he was becoming rather untidy in his room, did not socialise with his brothers and sisters, and stayed up most of the night watching TV. He slept all day.

His mother remembered thinking he was on drugs but she put the thought out of her mind. She was sure something was wrong. His siblings were also concerned. They had noticed that the patient had become “odd” and was very suspicious and secretive. Small things upset him, for example, when a young brother made what he considered to be “too much noise”. He put all his electronic gadgets away, for fear of being monitored by government agents.

Now in the doctor’s office, a few months later, things started to make sense.

Yes, she said she had lost her son but could not tell how. His body was the same (except very thin) but the things he said and did, did not make sense to anybody.

The doctor confirmed that the student was not taking any drugs.

Asked for the diagnosis, the doctor told the parents that the boy most probably has early features of Schizophrenia. The strange beliefs he had were some of the manifestations of the condition.

He was put on treatment but it was too late for him to do his examinations that year.

The following year, his parents decided to change him to a day school to supervise his medication. His response to treatment was good. He continues with medication and is back at the top of his class.

He often expresses surprise at some of the things he believed before he was put on medication.

The other boy claimed the problem of evil spirits rested in the classroom.

Whenever he went near the classroom, his body would shake violently. As with the other boy, all efforts to accommodate the problem with the spirits failed to work.

Seen by a psychiatrist at the request of the school the problem was completely different. His father had told him he must get an ‘A’ so that he could join a top university to read Economics like him.

He was a ‘B’ student and knew he could not get an ‘A’. He “fell ill” to find an excuse for not passing with an ‘A’ as his father wanted. The first boy was psychotic, the second had an anxiety disorder: similar symptoms with different causes.

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