Medical doctors and physicians in a lecture series on June 23 raised an alarm that mental illness has become an unrecognized emergency that needs the collective effort of every party to fight. It means as doctors are at the forefront by providing medication and counseling for affected people, so is the government to provide the resources and facilities that will create the enabling environment for addressing the problem.
Not only that doctors and government will play these cardinal roles, parents or relatives of affected people need to also care for the affected person while people taking risk of doing or consuming things that may serve as conduits for mental illness need to stop.
According to the vice president of the Liberia chapter for the West African College of Physicians (WACP), Rose Jallah Macauley, one major cause of mental illness in Liberia today is drug abuse. Although she did not provide any statistics regarding cases of mental illness resulting from drug abuse, it is no doubt that many young people have turned to be drug addicts as ‘ghettos’ are erected in most parts of the country, especially the city areas.
The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) of the Liberia National Police and presidential task force have on many occasions arrested drug abusers and even traffickers of dangerous drugs into the country. It is sad to note that despite attempts to battle against the production, trafficking and sale of these drugs to prevent abuse by young people, the Drug Law of Liberia remains stuck in committee room at the National Legislature and there is no deterrent law at present.
World Health Organization (WHO) statistics show that about 130,000 people in this country have severe mental illness, reinforcing the call by Dr. Jallah to have a rehabilitation center for mentally ill people to undergo counseling and receive treatment for their conditions.
The country is faced with a few consequences resulting from mental illness that can be underscored here. Severe mental illness is seriously decreasing the human resource capacity of the country. Some of the affected people could have become teachers, physicians and doctors, nurses and other useful people that can deliver valuable services in the Liberian society. But as the case is now, instead of these people being useful to the society, they have become societal burdens that government is called upon to provide money to cater for.
As cases of mental illness increase, so is the danger posed to the rest of the people who mix up with mentally ill people in the streets on a daily basis. Any of these mentally ill people could be agitated to injure or harm anyone at any time. Who will take responsibility for such actions by mentally ill people? Everyone needs security; either the mentally ill person or the ordinary person. It is therefore possible that if a mentally ill person causes anyone to sustain an injury, the person can also react against the perpetrator, and more problems will arise.
This newspaper, the Daily Observer, is therefore urging the government to attach seriousness to the passage of the Drug Law to deter traffickers and abusers and reduce the risk of mental illness. During the Ebola epidemic of 2014, there were survivors and relatives of victims who developed trauma. There are also other social conditions that are affecting people thus causing them to develop mental illness. The WHO also says about 400,000 people are suffering from some form of mental illness. We call on the government to therefore provide facilities that will accommodate such people, where care and counseling will be given them to overcome the issues that cause mental stress.
The Daily Observer could disregard this societal problem as anyone else, but let us learn from the story, “Town trap is not for rat alone” written by Professor Wilton Sankawulo in one of his publications, Marriage of Wisdom. The cows, sheep, goats and pigs felt that they were not rat eaters, and therefore could not loosen the trap to allow cat in to find rats. But as the trap caught the rattle snake and the snake in turn bit the King’s daughter and she died, there were no other livestock to kill during the feast but cows, goats and sheep.
Let the government and other people learn from some of these stories to put proper facilities in place to prevent future problems. Mental illness is increasing and overcoming the population. Let us be aware of this pressing unrecognized national emergency to develop plans to tackle it so we can continue to have a society that is at peace with itself.