Mental Illness Increases in Liberia

Mental illness has reportedly increased in the country, with Phebe Medical Hospital in Bong County recording at least 171 mentally ill patients since January 2012.

But the psychiatrist at the hospital blamed the increase of the illness on lack of political interest. Dr. Joshua Tugumisirize, who disclosed the increase in mental illness to our reporter, lamented the situation, which he noted, is worsen by the seemingly lack of political will or interest by the government to address the lack of the appropriate infrastructural facility to address the disease.

However, he attributed the main factors contributing to mental illness in Liberia to poverty, conflict with the family and community, stigmatization, environmental factors and abuse of alcohol, many of whom, he added, result from frustration, disappointment and domestic violence. Dr. Tugumisirize disclosed the youngest patient with mental illness that have so far visited the Phebe Hospital to be at the age of nine month, a baby who may have suffered brain damage due to prolong labor or infection at birth.

The psychiatrist also identified the oldest patient to be at the age of eighty.   According to him, Phebe Hospital is receiving only outpatients, most of whom he referred to as being “just contacts”. Dr. Tugumisirize further stressed the need for a clinic, which he added, should specifically cater to mental illness.
He lamented that the situation of mentally ill people has been worsen by the seemingly lack of political will or interest on the part of the government to address the lack of formal infrastructure or facility for mental illness. Presently, the Catherine Mills Rehabilitation Center is the only facility that caters to mentally ill people, but this facility is inadequate for the prevailing situation of mental illness, in addition to the lack of trained mental health practitioners and lack of specialized program and school for mental health. 
Dr. Tugumisirize stated that the condition of persons with mental illness  is been compounded by their severe challenge of stigmatization, lack of commitment from family to take care of them, lack of inadequate human resources and misunderstanding by even medical practitioners.

Emphasizing the need for the government to do more about mental illness in the country, Dr. Tugumisirize pointed out that other countries, which have taken giant steps to address the issue of mental illness, such as Malawi, sponsored people to study mental health in Zambia and Uganda, which have a post graduate training in the discipline or psychological training. 

For his part, the then Chief Medical Officer of Bong County, Dr. Garfee Williams, said Dr. Joshua Tugumisirize was currently the only practicing psychiatrist in Liberia. The Liberian medical practitioner said he went into mental health based on human rights issue, adding, there was a gap in the health policy document on mental health and the reality obtaining because there was no allotment for resources and expertise.

He pointed out that the national budget last year gave nine percent to health and 10 percent this year, 80 percent of which, the Health Official pointed out is for communicable diseases, and only one percent for non communicable diseases. He said now the issue of mental illness has worsened by the level of poverty and vulnerability.

Dr. Williams attributed the worsening situation of mental illness to anxiety and depression, adding, “they need chronic care from all. “ He asserted that getting timely and proper treatment as well as care will make those who have mental challenge now to recover and have the chance of becoming productive for a better society. Making reference to an earlier comment by Dr. Tugumisirize that policy makers most times argue that resources should be gear towards saving lives, Dr. Williams said, policy makers are contending that the mentally ill are not dying; therefore their family should take care of them.

The two doctors contended that issue of mental illness is a social issue that should not be treated as though those who are ill are responsible for it, asking, “Should those who are okay ignore those who are not?” Dr. Tugumisirize then named charity, kindness, and compassion and love as virtues that should drive everyone concerned to work with the mentally ill. Recently a local radio station reported on the shortage of drug for the mentally ill at the Bong County health Center. 

The news quoted the mental health Coordinator Dakemue Kollie as stating that the health center's drug shortage for the mentally ill people has caused a situation which was hampering the health needs of the mentally ill. Mr. Kollie among other things, named the lack of accessible mental clinics as other factor that must be addressed by stakeholders in the health sector to avail easy access to the mentally ill people with mental illness.

The Phebe Medical Center in Bong County, central Liberia, is the only medical center in Liberia that addresses mental illness at its Out Patient Department prior to opening of the Catherine Mills, a private clinic also addressing mental illness in the country. Article 12, point 1 of the International covenant on Economic, social and cultural rights, which was ratified by Liberia on September 22, 2004, states that state parties to the present covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. It furthers in point (d) the creation of conditions which would assure all to medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness.

Article 25, point 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights also states that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Article 11c of the constitution of Liberia states that all persons are equal before the law and are therefore entitled to the equal protection of the law.


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