A cure for paralyzing fear in Chad

The most vulnerable in Chad: women and children

Have you experienced fear so strong it rendered you mute or paralyzed? Mark Hotchkins’ patients at Guinebor II Hospital have.

Fear is a powerful emotion. It can remove our ability to speak and move or even drive us to do dangerous things. This is different from the feelings that something like loud thunder might evoke. This type comes from feeling absolutely powerless, and from having no control over your circumstances.

At Guinebor II Hospital (G2) outside of N’Djamena, in Chad most of the patients BMS World Mission doctor Mark Hotchkin treats in this condition are women. However, there are a few rare exceptions.

Moussa*, a seven-year-old boy originally from Lake Chad, an area invaded by Boko Haram in February, was sent away to a religious school by his family 19 months ago. He hadn’t heard from his father, who still lives there, since the attack. After learning of the trouble there, he became silent and immobile.

Boys visiting Guinebor II Hospital

After four days without making a sound or moving on his own, Moussa’s headmaster carried him to G2 where Mark took over the little boy’s care and set about trying to discover the reason for Moussa’s silence. Despite positive results, the headmaster was sure that little Moussa was physically ill. So Mark asked for a few moments alone with his patient and helped Moussa break free of his fear-induced shell. “This time I asked him if he was worried about his parents,” says Mark. Tears filled Moussa’s eyes and rolled down his cheeks as he said, “Yes.” Mark gave him the opportunity to speak freely about his worries and Moussa was able to find his voice.

“The response of the powerless and weak around here is often silence,” says Mark. A more common sight than Moussa, he reports, is young women who are mute, laying stiffly on beds and appearing unconscious being admitted by their families. “We do see this quite often,” says Mark, “and I think it has to do with people’s positions in society and how they’re able to respond to things.”

Dr Mark Hotchkins

Years of experience working with similar situations in the UK has made it easier for Mark to tell which cases are physical illness and which are a result of mental trauma. “I think these phenomena, and especially psychological mutism, have much more to do with a sense of powerlessness and being in a low position where you aren’t usually heard, than with gender,” he says. But in a patriarchal society, like Chad, women and children are the ones who suffer. How do you help people who feel so helpless and stuck that they can no longer play an active part in their own world?

Drinking petrol was the solution for nineteen-year-old Asha*.

The young married woman had run back to her family home after suffering verbal and physical abuse from her in-laws. Her father was returning Asha to her husband when she saw the can and made a choice. Thankfully, she was taken to G2 in time and no damage was done. But her situation is an example of someone on the margins, someone who believes that their life is no longer theirs, grasping for some sense of dignity and control. Asha did not choose when or who she married and we will never know if the young couple were married before the age of eighteen. Her home, a place where she neither feels safe, loved nor valued, will remain her home until she dies.

Fear for family during conflict and fear for self at home. Fear driving a child into paralyzed silence and fear driving a young, abused woman to attempt suicide. BMS created the Dignity initiative to help people like Asha who are survivors of gender based violence in places like Mozambique, Thailand and Uganda regain control over their lives and break through the cloud of fear that keeps them silent or hopeless. “These people, especially the powerless young women,” says Mark, “the unhappy, abused and exploited in all our societies, need help the world over.”


Mark Hotchkin’s full blog post can be found on their profile.


*Names and specific details about each patient have been changed to preserve their privacy.

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