MONROVIA – Liberian Mental Health Service Users have returned to the country, following a weeklong Global Mental Health Campaign Planning Meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa. The meeting, which brought together mental health leaders and civil society actors from fourteen countries around the world, sought to build a common action plan for beneficiaries of mental health services, including service providing institutions to impress on Governments and the international community to increase funding support and human resources for mental health around the world.
The meeting convened by the South Africa Federation for Mental Health, SAMFH, and the UK based Campaign Group, United for Global Mental Health, sought to improve cooperation and synergies among mental health actors across the world. It has been recognized globally, that mental health services are inadequate to meet the needs.
Among the key factors that stymie equity for persons who need mental health services include lack of funding support, inconsistent and inadequate supplies of medications and treatment, to stigma and discrimination.
Irrespective of development, these factors plague countries at different levels.
The Liberian team led by Reverend Bill SK Jallah, National President of Cultivation for Users Hope, Liberia’s only mental health service user organization, included Famatta Stewart, Cell Leader of the Group’s Kakata Cell and Matthew Nyanplu, Technical Coordinator of the group.
Rev. Jallah remarked that “a new day was dawning in the lives of persons with mental illness in Liberia and around the world,”.
He expressed excitement to participate in the global mental health planning meeting. The meeting was designed to support mental health services users build coalitions and alliances to improve access to services, increase their voice in decision-making about their lives and to eliminate stigma and human rights abuses.
Rev Jallah recognized that his organization has made gains in advancing the agenda for persons with lived experience of mental ill health in Liberia, but also that “many countries are ahead of us”.
Rev Jallah furthered that they are now embolden to demand greater actions and attention from Governments around the world, including the Government of Liberia to ensure that the fundamental human rights of persons with mental ill health are protected, and that they, too, can enjoy access to health and other vital services to which all citizens of the world and Liberia are entitled.
Liberia faces acute challenges in providing mental health services for its citizens. The country has only three practicing psychiatrists at any one time, with only one Liberian psychiatrist and approximately more than 300 certified mental health clinicians who provide mental health and addiction services across the country.
Additionally, over 500 health care workers have been trained in mental health in primary care (mh-GAP). From the perspective of persons with mental health conditions, the visible impacts of the failing mental health system include the number of persons with mental illness in the streets across the country.
The ES Grant Mental Hospital lacks the capacity to cope with the demand for services in the country. These challenges, according to Jallah, can be surmounted when the stakeholders and policymakers pay attention.
According to Jallah, anybody can experience mental illness. So, if the Government invests in addressing mental illness and meeting the needs of those who are affected, the country will be creating a better future where all persons are assured of good health and better lives.
Upon returning from South Africa, the group embraced the challenge of ensuring the people and Government of Liberia recognize how much is lost by the country when persons with mental illness do not receive the services and support they need to meaningfully contribute to society.
“Liberia loses when we don’t meet the needs of persons with acute mental illness littering the streets across the country, and it was a matter of human rights that they receive the care and attention they need from the State,” said Jallah.
He urged the Government to follow the mental health law by protecting the rights of persons with mental health conditions and the government’s own policies.
“This is the task we recognize we must take on, and with God above, Liberia will turn the corner for its mental ill health population,” Reverend Jallah said.
There were 80 participants from 14 countries attending the meeting including participants from Sierra Leone, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Argentina, UK, South Africa, Australia, Indonesia, Tonga, USA, India, and Nepal.
The meeting designed a national and global level campaign, which is being led by users themselves. Global donor partners participating in the meeting included the US Agency for International Development and Comic Relief UK, among others.