The Mental Health Leadership and Advocacy Program (mhLAP), an advocacy group for people suffering from some forms of mental illness, has called on the government, through the Ministry of Health, to place mental-related health and care on the front burner.
According to a press release from the group, during a recent stakeholder’s meeting at a resort, previous administrations did not pay much attention to “this very serious issue, which affects most of the population knowingly and unknowingly.”
Sametha P. Thomas, country facilitator of mhLAP, said that before the 1960s, traditional healers and religious leaders cared for mental health patients.
“Most believed that mental health-related problems were caused by demonic possession or witchcraft; and that treatment was often harsh and inhumane, because it included legs locked into logs and sleep deprivation as a way to remove the ‘responsible spirits,'” she said.
Mrs. Thomas further stated that the government first implemented a formal mental health delivery service in the 1960s, when a group of concerned Liberian women advocated and mobilized resources to construct a psychiatric facility outside Monrovia.
“The Catherine Mills Rehabilitation Center, which was built on a 90-acre parcel of land donated by Ellen Mills Scarborough, now lies in ruin and nothing seems to be done to have it revived. In fact, most the land has now been illegally grabbed by others,” she said.
Mrs. Thomas challenged her colleagues that in their advocacy, they should focus their energy on urging the government to create a budget line for mental health in the national budget; to build a state of the art mental health, neurological and substance use disorder treatment and rehabilitation hospital (teaching, training and treating); procure mental health medicines; establish community based substance use and abuse treatment programs.
In remarks, the World Health Organization (WHO) representative thanked mhLAP for bringing together the stakeholders.
He stated that the meetings and studies have helped to shape his career. He also stated that the need for more funding to tackle mental health issues in Liberia cannot be over emphasized.
“I think we have huge mental health issues in our country. People with mental health issues do need help; they could be future leaders in our country. If we neglect them, our economy suffers because it is going to place a burden on the society,” the WHO representative said, promising the entity’s unflinching support to all health-related activities in the country through the Ministry of Health (MOH).
Mrs. Angie Tarr, Director, Mental Health Unit, MOH, stressed the need for a sustained advocacy to be carried out in all sectors so that mental health issues can be prioritized.
“Advocacy is the only thing that will help us raise the awareness of mental issues in this country;” she stated adding: “We have heard that this administration has got mental health among their priorities for their first few days. Let’s work on our priorities.”
Reverend Tijili Tarty Tyee, Liberia’s chief pharmacist who spoke on behalf of the government, told the mhLAP stakeholders that they are making very important contributions to Liberia.
“One doesn’t have to remove his/her clothes and jump into the streets before he/she can be declared mentally ill. Every one of us one way or the other has got some mental problem. We need to extend our work to all sectors of our society. Since we went through the civil crises, the tolerance of most Liberians is so short,” Tyee said.
The nation’s chief pharmacist urged the advocators to strengthen their advocacy, which may sometime appear failing, admonishing them: “But don’t give up, you have a very serious role to play in helping with mental health issues in this country.”
Tyee urged the advocacy group to get to every nook and cranny of Liberia in order to spread the message. “It’s incumbent upon us to protect our young people, who are the ones most on harmful substances.”
He assured the body that he would continue to be a friend of mental health activism and activities in the country. “We will join forces and continue to collaborate with you in raising the issue of mental health to higher ups,” he added.
A few years ago, a study of youth mental health needs in Monrovia predictably found that war exposure and post-conflict sexual violence, poverty, infectious disease, and parental death negatively impacted the youth’s mental health and functionality in education, employment, and positive social relationships.