The Mental Health System in Sierra Leone
“Mental health is just as important as physical health.” – Unknown
According to Alemu et al (2012), the 10 year civil war and the recent Ebola outbreak has contributed to the increase in the number of people affected by mental illness. The same author states that there are approximately 715,000 people suffering from mental disorders but only 2000 are receiving proper care and treatment (Esliker, 2016).
Furthermore, according to an interview with Dr. Edward Nahim, a psychiatrist and head of Sierra Leone psychiatric hospital in Freetown, there are already about 400,000 patients recorded to be suffering from mental illness but due to lack of time and resource scarcity, only 10 percent of the patients were provided with appropriate mental health care whilst the other 90 percent had resorted to seeking healthcare from traditional healers (Yoldi, 2012).
It makes perfect sense that, in a country with a population of over six million people, a good portion of these people are suffering from one mental illness or another. Sierra Leoneans have endured a war, conquered the Ebola virus and are currently battling a grueling economic crisis. And research shows that mental health problems thrive in areas where there is violence, ill-health, low-income and malnutrition.
But yet in Sierra Leone (and much of Africa), where these problems exist to a great degree, mental health is not given the utmost priority. A standard mental health system has not been established and many are suffering unnecessarily. What happens when one suffers from mental illness? Every aspect of your life is affected. Thus, it goes without saying, that solid mental health is crucial for our optimal performance and well-being.
Let us take a brief look at the reality of the mental health system and how mental health is perceived in Sierra Leone
- There is a scarcity of proper equipments and medication needed for mental health in Sierra Leone. According to the World Health Organization, most countries in Africa, if they have dedicated a budget for mental health care at all, devote an average of less than one percent of their health spending to the problem. Therefore with little or no funding dedicated to the mental health system in Sierra Leone, the mentally ill are not catered for. They live in deplorable conditions. They are neglected and abused by community members. They are resigned to roam the streets or be chained for a good portion of their lives.
- There is also a scarcity of mental health professionals in Sierra Leone. The country has only one psychiatric hospital, one psychiatrist and two trained psychiatrist nurses.
- With the mental health system in shambles, many in Sierra Leone turn to the church and traditional healers to seek help for their mentally ill loved ones. People have strong convictions that those suffering from mental health problems are possessed by demons, and that through exorcism, the patient will automatically return back to normal.
- Sierra Leoneans need to have a better understanding of what mental illness is. I believe with better understanding, stigma and discrimination will be reduced. Thus, I suggest that mental health studies be integrated into the curriculum from primary to tertiary education.
What do you think? What can be done about the mental health system in Sierra Leone? What other factors do you think impact the mental health system in Sierra Leone? Let’s talk!
Read more about what I have to say regarding mental illness in this thought-provoking interview I did with Dunia magazine!
Psst! You can submit an article to the Sincerely ShirleyGO blog here. Read guidelines for guest blogging here.
Remember, be sincerely you!