Mental Illness Reaches Unimaginable Concerns; Liberia Deserves Modern Mental Health Strategy

 By Mafanta Kromah

There is an increase in the number of mentally ill persons in the country and has become a common illness that victimizes people of all ages, regardless of ethnicity, fraternity, religious affiliation and or status in life.

From childhood to adult age this problem cannot be ignored and allowed to permeate society without national government immediate intervention. This nation can no longer look the other way hoping that this pandemic will go away, especially given our recent problem with the deadly EBOLA crisis.

Given the current World Bank statistics, about 10% of the world’s population lives with mental illness, many of which is caused by depression. According to the Carter Center, 40% of the 4.5 million Liberians has symptoms of major depression and about 44% appeared to have post-traumatic stress disorders. It is also estimated that is close to 50-70% of women and girls were sexually assaulted during the civil war and about 11% have contemplated suicide. Due to the dearth of mental health services in the country, only a handful of persons with mental illness received treatment, says the report.

Looking at the history of Liberia over the years, cumulating into our recent violent civil war, it’s the professional opinions of medical practitioners that some of this madness is caused by the traumatic effect from the devastating 14 years of civil war that affected people throughout this nation. In some cases, the impact of visible and invisible factors can increase the stress levels of people leading to mental madness. This is even widespread due to the lack of professional interventions to provide services to those suspected of mental illness.

The alarming unemployment rate in Liberia, estimated between 60-70% is another contributing factor to mental illness in the nation. According to LIGIS report, about 70% of the Liberian population is unemployed and as a result, people find themselves engaged in unlawful and illegal activities such as drug use. In most cases, these unlawful and illegal activities result to mental problems, which, in some instances, lead some to commit suicide or heinous crimes against other people in the Country.

This situation is so alarming that it’s not limited to urban areas. Many in rural Liberia are said to be faced with mental health conditions that continue to tear families apart. Though there has been no established data, reports from rural Liberia indicates that some men are angrily killing family members, wives and innocent people over very small issues, that can easily be negotiated and settled by immediate interventions of elders and or leaders of these communities.

It’s also an established fact that unemployment which results in poverty is a risk factor for mental illness. Poverty reduces the ability of an individual to access productive, preventive, curative and rehabilitative services, thereby increasing their risks of morbidity, disability, and mortality. The stress of substance abuse associated with widespread poverty can also create problems for society and increase the risks of developing mental disorders.

Typical examples of this alarming situation have been documented in the form of reports from various media institutions in the Nation. It’s no secret that unemployment as a contributing factor has taken another trend in the Nation, where young, promising girls are prostituting themselves for survival. A recent report of a prominent young beauty queen going mad after sleeping with a strange Nigerian man is another example of how widespread is this situation.

Another factor associated with mental illness is birth trauma, especially amongst young girls who are not mentally and legally prepared and matured for childbirth. Medical practitioners have often opined that the damage to tissues and trauma associated with childbirths, along with long-term cognitive consequences which encompass both mother and the newly delivered child are major contributing factors to mental illness. These conditions, in addition to poverty usually affect young mothers, who are unable to cope with its impacts and most often end up using illegal substances as escape routes.

The effects of the use of some recreational drugs by young people in the country have also contributed to the increase in mental madness, especially amongst young people. As the usage of illicit drugs increases in the Country, the numbers of mentally ill persons are also on the rise, coupled with prostitution, human trafficking and a looming threat to the Liberian society as a whole. The effects of the use of some recreational drugs by young people in the country have also contributed to the increase in mental madness, especially amongst young people.

According to mental health science, the use of some form of recreational drugs and its impact on the brain, which makes one feel relaxed and high, also makes it difficult for users to remember things. The long-term effects and impacts causes long-term mental health problems, including schizophrenia, a very serious mental illness in a person that make a person thinks or behave abnormally and experience delusion, psychosis, and depression; a medical condition that make a person feel very sad, hopeless, and unimportant and unable to live in a normal society.

However, mental illness has become so alarming that Liberians are concern about the situation and want government immediate intervention, to create functioning mental health services, to cater to this growing pandemic. It’s estimated that 4 out of 10 young Liberians suffer some form of undiagnosed mental illness and this situation is on the rise across streets, cities, and towns in this Nation. In most cities, they are termed as “Zogos” in Liberia.

Given the statistics on the mental health situation in Liberia today, the Nation continues to suffer moderate to progressive mental disorders, mostly due to the trauma of war and the lack of decent mental health services in the Country. Many of the healthcare workers in the Nation lacked a basic understanding of mental illness, due to the lack of specific mental health curriculum and education in most, if not all institutions in the Nation.

The effects and impacts of this pandemic can be temporary or long-lasting depending on the national government’s response to this growing problem, especially if there is no urgent care and attention is given to mentally ill people; especially those on the streets of our cities, harassing and putting people lives at risk. It is believed that the only way to resolve the mental health situation in our country is to build modern mental recovery center that will promote education, socialization, and training, which will help mentally ill people to build better lives for themselves, gain empowerment, maintain independence, and be rehabilitated to earn acceptance within the Liberian society.

One notable government entity that could provide immediate relief is the Social Security Administration. While it’s a good business decision to construct high-end real estate properties in the Nation and rent to government institutions and private entities for future profits; the Government of Liberia should encourage the Social Security Administration to invest in the health and well-being of the people of this Nation, especially, mental health. This will help to reduce the number of mentally ill people on street corners in our cities and those impacted by mental illness caused by poverty in rural Liberia.

Though there is a tendency in Africa at large and Liberia is no exception, to ignore and brand mentally ill people as alcoholics and drug-users; neglected and left to survival on streets with their children. These mentally ill people and their family always face stigma in their various communities and there is a need for the Liberian Government to act and acknowledge the situation with policies to tackle and impact this growing threat.

The government through the Ministry of Education needs to bring the teachings and regulations as part of the primary, secondary and tertiary education curriculum as a long-term strategy to combat this pandemic.

This will help the young ones understand themselves, and reduce shame on society. This will help the next generation and save them from our generation experiences.

It’s hoped that this article and many others written in the past will help create awareness to the lack of appropriate services for mental illness and draw the attention of health authorities to the mental health crisis in the Country. If measures are not taken to aggressively tackle this growing pandemic and reduce or bring this situation to a manageable control, to keep our streets free and safe of people with mental madness, Liberia will face another serious problem which might drive future investors away.

 

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