Mental Health Group Steps UP Awareness

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The Liberia office for the Mental Health Leadership and Advocacy Program (mhLAP) has moved one step further in its awareness campaign to highlight mental health issues in Liberia with the introduction of a newsletter.

Mrs. Sametta Thomas, Country Facilitator for mhLAP Liberia, said the program has embarked on the project hoping that the newsletter will help boost their efforts to increase public awareness of (the wide range of) mental health issues. Representatives of 12 local and international organizations attended the launch of the newsletter, which had its maiden publication on display.

Delivering the mission statement of mhLAP in Liberia, Mr. Woye Fadahunsi, Project Coordinator of mhLAP office in Nigeria, said the newsletter is intended to extend the frontiers of mental health awareness and raise advocacy in Liberia.

According to Mr. Fadahunsi, the greatest challenge to mental health service development is the lack of proper understanding of issues relating to mental health. “For example, one of the major challenges to mental healthcare is the problem of stigma. Stigma of mental disorders is fuelled mostly by the societal perception of mental illness and attitudes towards people with mental illness, which to a great extent affects these people’s health seeking behavior and the eventual outcome of the illness,” he stated.

He added that the Nigerian mhLAP office was proud to be a part of the coalition that is committed to repairing and rebuilding the mental health services of Liberia and contributing to the mental wellbeing of Liberians after the recent Ebola epidemic and its attendant physical, mental and psychological effects on the whole country.

“This launch is to show that after fighting Ebola and its corresponding challenges, we are seizing every opportunity to rebound and do better with regards to advocating for improving mental health services in Liberia,” Mr. Fadahunsi, who is also a member of the
Department of Psychiatry, University of Ibadan, Nigeria, stated. He expressed his “strong conviction” that Liberia can do well in mental health services if given the necessary support.

Serving as the guest speaker for the occasion, Mr. Ali Sylla said, on reflection, the nation has not done much for people with mental disorders. However, he said the gathering was a good one for Liberia as they, including their fellow mental health advocates, had gathered to highlight the issues affecting their fellow Liberians.

Mr. Sylla, who is the founder of the Center for Counseling and Restorative Dialogue (CCRD), further said that he was glad that they had assembled to highlight the “RR” components of the “DDRR,” which stands for the Disarmament Demobilization Rehabilitation and Reintegration.

“If you fought a civil war which lasted for 14 years, with over 300,000 dead, 760,000 internally displaced and over 700,000 fleeing into refugee camps in the entire region, than mental illness is bound to be around. The emphasis is that a whole country was traumatized.
When you have trauma, you have mental illnesses associated with that,” he said.

He emphasized that the entire nation did not do a decent job with the “RR” components, adding: “Because the RR talks about programs and activities, whether it’s through psychosocial counseling, reintegration through transitional homes, looking at individuals of competence to stand trial in our court system, medication for those who have been vulnerably affected in our country, we have not done a decent job with that.”

He disclosed that mental illness comes in different forms and manners, including chronic headaches, severe joint pains and stomach aches and verbal demonstrations.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a 2008 survey had reported that at least 40 percent of Liberia’s population had self-reported symptoms indicative of major depression while 44 percent probably had posttraumatic stress disorder.

Mr. Sylla said the 40 percent, which was reported by a Harvard University team which had conducted the survey in Liberia, represents at least 1.8 million of Liberia’s four million people. “Then if you go back to the over 300,000 who were the victims of our civil war who we didn’t provide any service to deal with their grief, then we should know what we have more mental health issues.”

He, however, said a small program such as the one that mhLAP has embarked on, can have a significant impact on the population.

Mrs. Angie Tarr-Yankon, Director, Mental Health Unit, Ministry of Health, in her remarks, appreciated mhLAP for the level of work it has done so far. She encouraged other stakeholders engaged in mental health issues to contribute to the newsletter so that issues can be highlighted.

The Officer-in-Charge of the Liberia Office for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Mr. Yilaa Wloti Se, emphasized that the issue of mental health “is everyone’s business.” He stressed that no one should feel exempted as mental health problems sometimes present in forms and manners that most victims don’t recognize.

“It doesn’t matter where you are and where you sit, you should get involved in it. You may think that you are fine physically as you stand but deep down there may be something wrong with you. This is the situation with most of us Liberians,” Mr. Se stated. He pledged his office’s cooperation with mhLAP. He hoped that the day of the newsletter’s launch will not be the last day of the project, but that the publication will continue to highlight issues on mental health in Liberia.

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