Activists Petition Lawmakers to Prioritize Mental Health Policy in Budget

MONROVIA, Montserrado – A mental health advocacy group has petitioned the legislature to ensure that the National Mental Health Policy is prioritized within the 2019-2020 budget to safeguard its implementation.

Bill S. Jallah, the head of Cultivation for Users’ Hope, read the petition on Monday, August 19 at the Capitol Building, where he lamented the neglect persons with mental illnesses face in the country.

“We are also here today to call on our lawmakers to do more for persons affected with mental illnesses,” he said.

“Those of us who have gathered here today at the Capitol Building represent up to 500,000 mental health service users across the country.”

Since the passage of the 2017 Mental Health Law which calls for the protection and promotion of the fundamental human rights of all persons with mental illness in Liberia, implementation and enforcement have been lagging.

Jallah said while he applauds the government for passing the act and adopting a National Mental Health Policy and Strategic Plan in 2016, not much has been done since to address the issue of persons with mental illnesses.

Bill S. Jallah, president of Cultivation for Users’ Hope, read the petition presented to lawmakers. Photo: Zeze Ballah

Jallah said within the strategic plan, the government had committed itself to take certain actions within a five-year period to modernize the existing mental health services across the country. Among those planned actions are to create new services, recruit and train qualified staff, and to improve the quality of care available to all persons with mental illness.

Now, he wants to see that policy implemented: “Three years after the adoption for the policy, no further action has been taken and the delay by the government is costing the country so much.”

Women, children and the elderly gathered at the Capitol Building to petition their lawmakers. Photo: Zeze Ballah

  

Among the challenges currently facing mental health patients, Jallah said, is the lack of medication across the country. He noted that the shortage “has created an alarming rate of relapses among persons living in recovery.”

Despite commitments from the government, Jallah said healthcare for the mentally ill continues to be sidelined and “each of us needs good mental health care to be able to fully function in society, pursue our life goals, and meet our responsibilities as citizens of Liberia.”

Receiving the petition, Rep. George Boley of Grand Gedeh’s second district and the co-chair on the House Committee on Health, told the petitioners that he believes that mental health is a national issue.

“I was designated to receive the petition and ensure that that it is delivered to the speaker of the 54th National Legislature, Bhofal Chambers,” he said. “The petition will be referred to the appropriate committee, which will then address your concerns.”

Representative George Boley assured the petitioners that their concerns would be addressed. Photo: Zeze Ballah

Cultivation for Users’ Hope, which organized the petitioning, has worked with communities and families to raise awareness about mental illnesses and to fight the abuse, violence, and stigma that persons living with mental illness are confronted with daily. The group also works with mentally ill persons who are living in recovery to improve their livelihood through skills development, education, and scholarship support.

Featured photo by Zeze Ballah

Zeze Ballah

Zeze made his journalism debut as a high school reporter at the LAMCO Area School System. In 2016 and 2017, the Press Union of Liberia awarded Zeze with the Photojournalist of the Year award. Zeze was also the union's 2017 Health Reporter of the Year. He is a Health Journalism Fellow with Internews.

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