TCC, MHRN Boost Mental Health Journalism

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Benedict S. Dossen, Country Program Lead for Mental Health Program at The Carter Center and Samhita Kumar, Associate Director at the Mental Health program in Atlanta, USA for Carter Center.

– Trains 25 community journalists

The Mental Health Reporters’ Network (MHRN) has begun a 3-day intensive capacity-building of 25 community broadcast journalists with the aim to enhance better reporting on mental health issues; increasing advocacy and circumventing stigmatization of people suffering from disorders.

Mental health refers to cognitive, behavioral, and emotional well-being. It is all about how people think, feel, and behave.

Benedict S. Dossen, Country Program Lead for Mental Health Program at The Carter Center (TCC), said people with mental health problems are usually marginalized and stigmatized, but said better reporting on their condition will help to increase the advocacy, and create the opportunity for them to explain their problems to health practitioners.

Dossen said stigmatization continued to prevent people with mental health problems from being part of the society, and their benefits or entitlements.

The training, which is funded by TCC Mental Health Program, is held under the theme, “Increasing Public Understanding of Mental Health and Rights of People Living with Mental Illness in Liberia.” It brought together journalists from Margibi, Bong, Lofa, Bomi, Grand Bassa, Montserrado, Nimba and River Cess counties.

According to Mr. Dossen, it is important for Liberians to understand that mental health issues affecting people can be treated, and also enable survivors to live stable lives.

“If journalists write without stigmatizing people with mental health disorders, they will be able to confide in the journalists. Sadly, we are in a society where access to health services in general is limited, and worse for people with mental health in particular,” he said.

Mr. Dossen said TCC has a dedicated budget for mental health program in Liberia. “This means that that there have been some changes in reporting about mental health issues. He therefore called on the participants to play more advocacy role with people being afflicted by mental disorders.

“People pick up the newspaper and just believe that they read, but you have to always make sure that you doing due diligence, and the best to ensure that what is in the newspaper is good enough,” Mr. Dossen told the participants.

He called on the public to desist from stigmatizing people suffering from mental health disorders.

He said TCC has trained mental health clinicians around the country, who continue to provide statistics, including epilepsy. He said 50 percent of the mental health cases unearthed were primarily caused by epilepsy, according to clinicians assigned in various parts of the country.

Banner for the mental health journalism training, organized by The Carter Center

On the future of mental health in Liberia, Mr. Dossen expressed the hope to see specific appropriations within the national budget for mental health services.

“I will want to see budget supporting the mental health clinics, drugs for persons with mental health issues, and salary for mental health clinicians and contributing to national referral hospital and the rehabilitation for the Catherine Mills mental health facility,” he said.

He said he will also hope to see more mental health professionals who will specialize in psychiatry as Liberia only has one psychiatrist.

“We need to have more psychiatrists in the future and professional mental health clinicians and social workers,” he said.

Mr. Dossen said the initial training was precipitated on reports about misconceptions and reports that were more insensitive towards not just persons with mental health issues but also their family members and love ones. He stressed that journalists played a key role in transforming society through education,” he said.

“It’s hard to take a newspaper to read about your brother who you know is an accountant. He has done an excellent job and works at a famous bank before and taking care of everyone in the family. But just in days, he had a breakdown…..and the story in the paper is so different,” he said.

Mr. Dossen said he will continue to work with the Mental Health Reporters’ Network (MHRN) to ensure better report on mental health in Liberia.

Daniel Nyankonah, Jr, Secretary General of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) called on participants to get involved in networking… as it will help to strengthen the profession.

He said the PUL will continue to encourage networking, stating “We want to see your stories, because they speak for themselves because the journalism profession is peer review.”

Samhita Kumar, Associate Director at the Mental Health program in Atlanta, USA for Carter Center said the training is essential to reporting on mental health issues.

“You (journalists) are in a position that is more important now than before. You have to report on mental health issues that are responsible, comprehensive and treat people with the dignity they deserve. We focus more on the negative but there lots to be said about the positive and it’s the role of the media,” Director Kumar said.

Director Kumar who focuses on global mental health in Atlanta, called on beneficiaries of the training to show through their stories how people manage their mental challenges and their resilience so that other people can benefit from them.

She said The Carter Center is delighted to be in Liberia and committed to see progress made.

The training is organized by MHRN, is taking place the Plan Parenthood Association of Liberia.

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