Mental Health: The Challenges of Becoming Well and Staying Well

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Every day I watch dozens of mentally ill men and women, unraveled, some stark naked, positioned in and around parts of Monrovia that mentally stable individuals would not get caught sitting. Some of them, like Maley, upper right, have family and have been helped numerous times to get off the streets.

But each time they are counseled and rehabilitated, they relapse due to lack of sufficient medication, and end up back on the streets wandering.

“I was in Grant Mental Home before but my medicine finished,” revealed Maley, who has since had a setback and now wanders Broad Street.

Sitting on the ground in front of the Ministry of Finance, Maley stares into space and only focuses on what is in front of her whenever her three year old son is placed by her side. She gave birth to him in the street, the same way she delivered her three week old baby boy named Prime by a woman who took him in, on April 9.

There have been challenges reuniting mother and child, which the Ministry of Gender was called to assist with by this newspaper. Fortunately, they admitted being aware of Maley’s case and have begun assessing her situation, and making the right decision for the baby.
Maley had requested for help.

Although Maley appears to be aware of the past five years of her life, she, however, seems not to have the ability to change her condition and situation. In terms of claiming back her infant son, who she says will be returned when she is ready; Maley has absolutely no support outside of this paper or the medications that once gave her control over her life.

“To re-admit Maley to E. S. Grant Mental Health Hospital, she will need L$2, 500 and a list of supplies and clothes,” we were told when we tried getting her readmitted over the weekend.

E. S. Grant is the sole mental health hospital in Liberia. Since 2010, the hospital has only one psychiatrist, Dr. Benjamin Harris, who also happens to be Liberia’s only serving psychiatrist. Dr. Harris has expressed his willingness to make sure Maley is treated.

When it comes to the mentally challenged and indigent, their health care should be handled free. Drugs are provided free; but at times, some of the drugs are inaccessible,” Dr. Harris stated.

Meanwhile, according to George, who works in the health sector, it is estimated that 100 Liberian doctors cater to more than 3.8 million Liberians.

“We don’t have an update; the data collection is not yet completed, but still on-going,” George added.

According to online research engine Wikipedia, “a vast amount of Liberians suffer from mental illnesses or were mentally or physically traumatized,” blaming this on the 14 year civil war.

A study by the American Medical Association (AMA) in 2008 revealed that a staggering 40 percent of adults had shown symptoms of major depressive disorders. 44 percent of adults also had symptoms of PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

However, Dixon of the Montserrado County Health Team said there is a major issue of agencies taking money from, something that shouldn’t happen, and not properly treating mentally disabled patients – a problem that has halted Maley’s admission at the E.S. Grant mental health facility.

“This is an issue that we added to the bill that’s sitting at the Capitol and has not been passed since we proposed it. Until this bill can be passed, we are identifying the issues, and people with these issues to help. But how can you help after you have identified with them when there is no medicine?

Another issue is of drugs not being available; and even if you get them, they’re limited,” said Dixon.

According to him, psychotic drugs are shipped in every six months, a time span during which many patients relapse.

“When it’s not available you can’t substitute it because doing so creates another issue as well,” Dixon added.

Meanwhile, the mentally disabled have begun to swarm the streets of Monrovia and its environs. Their numbers have also been steadily increasing. What is now apparent is that family members are also kicking out their kin who begin to show symptoms of mental illness. This leads them to environments and situations that can be hazardous to their health and wellbeing as some of them are reportedly constantly abused, with beating marks all over their bodies. As for the women, they frequently get pregnant, with no man claiming the children of these unions.

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