Robust Mental Health Program Needed in Liberia

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Participants at yesterday's World Mental Health Day commemoration program held at the Liberia Chamber of Commerce

Dr. Sampson Arzoaquoi, Assistant Minister for Prevention Services at the Ministry of Health (MOH), has said that considering the 14 years of civil crisis, Liberia must develop a robust mental health program to reduce the number of persons observed with mental disorders.

Mental health, according to WHO, is a level of psychological well-being, or an absence of mental illness, a psychological state of a person who is functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioral adjustment.

Minister Arzoaquoi made the assertion on Monday October 2, at program commemorating World Mental Health Day, held at the Liberia Chamber of Commerce in Monrovia. He stressed the need to increase awareness and advocacy on mental health and ensuring that the necessary environment is created for all.

“We have a serious challenge with the communities to recognize their role in terms of relating to people who have serious mental health problems and treating them as an integral part of the communities,” he said.

The commemoration, which was held under the theme “Mental Health in the Work-Place” brought together partners, authority from the Ministry of Health, and people who have recovered from mental illnesses and contributing to the good of society.

According to the minister, a lot has been achieved by both the Ministry of Health and partners in terms of supporting some of the programs, including providing treatment for people with mental health issues and training people to cater to them, among others.

“We have the abilities to change this current environment and create the environment where people with mental illness can see themselves as part of the society and not being excluded,” he said.

He lauded the mental health unit at the MOH its continued commitment to push for more support for people with mental health problems.

He also lauded partners for their continued support in ensuring that Liberia has a better environment for people with mental health problems by providing quality healthcare for all mental health people and the health sector.

The Mental Health Day is celebrated on October 10 every year, but due to the Liberian presidential and legislative elections scheduled for the same day, the MOH and its partners decided to celebrate the day a week earlier.

Mrs. Vachel Harris Lake, who read a message from Dr. Alex Gasasira, WHO Representative to Liberia, lauded the MOH for its strong leadership and commitment to strengthening mental health services in Liberia.

“During our adult lives,” she said, “a large proportion of our time is spent at work. Experience in the workplace is one of the factors determining our overall wellbeing. Employers and managers who put in workplace initiatives to promote mental health and to support employees who have mental disorders see gains not only in the health of their employees but also in their productivity at work.”

Mrs. Lake, who is the head of health promotion and communications at the WHO, said a negative working environment, on the other hand, may lead to physical and mental problems, harmful use of substances or alcohol, absenteeism and lost productivity.
She said depression and anxiety disorders are common mental disorders that have impacts on an individual’s ability to work productively.

She said globally, more than 300 million people suffer from depression, the leading cause of disability. More than 260 million are living with anxiety disorders.

According to her, many of these people live with both, and a recent WHO-led study estimated that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity.

Mrs. Lake said WHO has also produced the “Protecting Workers’ Health” series, which provides guidance on common issues such as harassment and stress that can affect the health of workers.

As part of the mental health Gap Action Program (mhGAP), which provides tools for evidence-based healthcare, WHO’s technical instruments for early identification and management of alcohol and drug use disorders and for suicide prevention can also be useful for improving mental health in the workplace.

To promote good mental health in the workplace, she said, the mental health action plan outlines addressing the social determinants of mental health, such as living standards and working conditions; activities for prevention and promotion of health and mental health, including activities to reduce stigmatization and discrimination; increasing access to evidence-based care through health service development and access to occupational health services.

Rev. Bill Jallah, giving a testimony, called on family members of people with mental health problems to be supportive, which is one of the ways to help them recover.

“My wife stood with me during those years, and today I am impacting society. We have been able to train our children and are now working so it’s important for people to look at family support,” Jallah said.

Meanwhile, despite the praises heaped on the MOH and partners, a participant said Monrovia, its environs and other cities are filled with Liberians with mental health issues who roam the streets without hope and any assistance from the government and other sectors.

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