Liberia’s mental health problems are said to be taking changeable trends as the country continues to make improvement in recoveries through the interventions of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the Ministry of Health (MoH).
At this year’s World Mental Health Day celebration, held on October 10, 2019 in Bromley, Virginia, outside Monrovia, parents, family members, caregivers and loved ones narrated the significant improvement and success stories experienced over the past few years.
According to research, mental health is the state of someone who is “functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioral adjustment.”
Theresa Traub, MSF psychosocial worker assigned at the Bromley Health Center, said the center is currently catering to 200 active mental disorder patients, as well as some inactive patients.
“We treat people from St. Paul Bridge, and also Po River. We continue to have people coming from far distances because of the awareness done by the community workers. Again, we have one person who just completed his treatment and is now working,” Madam Traub said.
She said that another beneficiary, who claimed to be suffering from “open-mode, and later encouraged by staffs of Bromley, is today doing good.”
“Sadly, we were able to establish that he lost his entire family during the Liberian civil crisis right before his eyes, which led to him be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder,” madam Traub said.
“We continue to receive both older people and young people seeking treatment at the center,” Madam Traub continued. “We have people suffering with mental health disorder coming for treatment but, sometimes, we go from house to house to encourage people to send their love ones, relatives and friends suffering from the illness.”
She said that people with epilepsy (both children and adults) continue to seek treatment at the Bromley Health Center.
Madam Traub said that mental health disorder has nothing to do with witchcraft, or church, as well as family’s connection. Therefore, people suffering from the illness should always seek treatment. She warns family members, relatives and caregivers not to take people suffering from mental health disorders to church or traditional healers, rather carry them to hospital for better treatment.
Timothy, 33, a beneficiary of the treatment and who has recovered, also said his disorder started in 2014. So far, he says, he has experienced a high-level of recovery and is now working.
“Sadly, this illness started in 2014 where I moved into the street, and got involved into doing unacceptable things in society until 2016. I used to stone people, sleep in the street. Today, I am now working as a security man and able to earn money for myself,” he said.
“Today, I want to be grateful to the department of mental health at Bromley Health Center for treating me to reach this level. I started feeling good in the body since the end of 2018, but continue to take the medication until the health workers can declare me free from the disorder,” Timothy said.
Susana Foday, a resident of Mango Town in Virginia, and mother of Timothy, said since his treatment was initiated, her son’s condition has improved.
“October 2, 2019 made it three years since he started the treatment, and I want to be thankful to God and the MSF, along with MOH, for the good work. MSF Mental Health program is the rightful investment in Liberia, and I know everyone here today appreciate them, because it is complete improvement in our children’s problems,” madam Foday said.
She continued: “Timothy is now making money for himself. I was first afraid during the genesis of this job, but today, I am excited and satisfied that he does not do things for people to look at him in the street or in the community. Apart from people, who witnessed his situation, you cannot see him, and even identify him as someone who suffered severe mental health disorder.”
Madam Foday added that Timothy is currently working at night and usually takes his treatment before leaving the house for work and even upon his return in the morning. She said there is no embarrassment to the family anymore, or even disturbances during the day and night.
Hyppolite Kalala, project coordinator of MSF Mental Health Project in Montserrado County, said the celebration of World Mental Health Day is intended to create awareness about the illness, and ensure that people suffering from the illness are embraced in their community.
“We are celebrating mental health circumvent the stigmatization of people, because it leads to people neglecting friends, family members and loved ones,” Kalala said.
MSF is an international medical organization created since 1970, involved with providing medical care to thousands of patients in several countries.
The entity is currently having mental health activities in five health centers in Liberia, including Bromley, West Point, Clara Town, Pipeline and Bensonville.
“Over 1500 patients continue to benefit from the program. There are many successful stories since the MSF started the program,” Kalala said.
“We have patients who have made significant progress and even recover since they started their treatment and today continue to encourage others to take their medications,” he said.
“Today, we are here because MSF, in partnership with the MoH, continues to provide care to people with mental health disorder. Since September 2017, MSF has been providing care for patients at the Bromley Health Center and other places,” he said.
He said since 2015, the organization continues to provide treatment in pediatric cases in Liberia from one-year old to 15 years. But Kalala said the hospital is currently involved in regular and emergency operations.
He added that the illness has nothing to do with witchcraft and, therefore, called on communities to transfer people suspected of mental illness to be taken to the health center for better treatment, because the sickness is treatable.
Benjamin Ballah, who also suffered from mental illness and has now recovered, called on patients to continuously take their treatment.
“I was at E. S. Grant Mental hospital as patient, where I left from and I am now a classroom teacher; you can also recover and be like me too. I graduated from the University of Liberia in 2012 after spending 10 years with the illness and recovered for the past 13 years,” Ballah said.
“I was afraid to tell my story,” he continued. “I took off my clothes in the street and disturbed people. Today, we have US$25,000 in the national budget for mental health programs. So caregivers, please bring your patients for treatment and they will be well one day.”
Emmanuel A. Ballah, staff of MSF told caregivers not to blame patients whenever they refused to take treatment because it’s the sickness.
“Sometimes, our patients feel bad the way we talk or look at them and even the treatment given to them in the homes or in the various communities. Don’t see their actions as rudeness,” Mr. Ballah said.
Weedor G. Forkpa, mental health clinician at the Bromley Health Center, said the rights of most of the females diagnosed of psychosis seen in the community or on the street with pregnancy, are abused, something she described as “unfortunate.”
Madam Forkpa said most men usually take advantage of the girls or women suffering from the illness, and called on men to desist.
She described psychosis as a “very terrible condition for anyone, and seeing girls and women with pregnancy and in such condition is painful.”
She called on caregivers, parents and the community to encourage those observed with or suffering from psychosis to seek treatment.
“People with psychosis have hallucinations and delusion — they smell things, see strange things and hear voices, and have thoughts that are not real. You have to be very kind and willing to talk with them to make them visit the hospital and seek treatment. At Bromley, they will always meet people and help them get the best treatment,” she said.
“The only thing is to have a positive attitude towards oneself to be considered healthy, and have positive things toward yourself, community and neighbors. Also growing in line with your age,” Madam Forkpa said.
She said some people encountered the mental health disorder due to the environment, because illegal substance abuse can lead to the disorder are available.
“If you are living in an unfortunate community and not being protected by family members, there is high possibility of getting involved in it. Mental disorder leads to negative attitude towards yourself,” she told the audience.
She observed that people suffering from mental disorder sometimes refuse to talk with people, and hear abstract voices.
She said that psychosis, which is a severe mental disorder in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality, is a serious mental disorder affecting many people.
Madam Forkpa said many times, people who suffer from psychosis usually have false beliefs, including stories of witches and or someone trying to kill or harm them.”
She said some of the females suffered from human rights violation, “community devalued them, people say lots of things to them, and use them without paying them because of their mental disorders”
Augusta K. Musa, also a staff at Bromley Health Center, lauded the caregivers for their continued support to the patients, including during the raining days.