DIXVILLE, Montserrado- Wednesday, October 10 was celebrated as World Mental Health Day, a day designed to draw attention to the importance of mental health.
In Liberia, programs were held at the Ministry of Health and the E.S. Grant mental health hospital in Paynesville, under the theme: ‘Young people and young people in a changing world’.
One of the speakers who spoke at the program organized at the Ministry of Health, Jutomue Doetein, named depression as the most common mental health problem affecting young people.
Doetein is the head of the Liberia Children Representative Forum, formerly the Children’s parliament. He stressed the need for more awareness to be done to promote mental health for adolescent and young adults.
He also stressed the need for the expansion of mental health services for young people and encouraged the government to enforce the implementation of existing mental health laws.
In 2017, a Mental Health Act was passed and signed in to law to protect people with mental illnesses. Carter Center which is currently a front liner in the fight to increase coverage on mental health treatment welcomed the enactment of the law, hoping it would curb the number of inhumane treatments against people living with mental illness.
However, a Bush Chicken investigation has found that several individuals suffering from mental disorders are faced with a challenge of serious maltreatment from society.
The investigation shows that at the Living Word of Jesus Christ International Church in Dixville, outside Monrovia, where several young people with mental illness are taken for healing, keep the patients under inhumane conditions, including having them in chains for throughout the period they are undergoing healing. The patients are further made to go for 12-hours a day without food and water, while also being made to inhale incense twice in the day as a measure to help stabilize their brain.
It also revealed that the room the patients are kept at night lacks the standard to prevent the patients from being bitten by insects, including mosquitoes and that there are also no proper beddings facilities and beddings to host the patients. Patients spend their nights on benches and outdoor in chains unhealthy for them.
Patients are also relocated to the women skills training center at the church during normal Sunday worship service.
One patient who was nearing recovery told the Bush Chicken that he has suffered burns on his nose several times from inhaling incense. One of them was also unable to walk because his legs have been swollen by the weight of the chain paced on his legs to restrict his movement.
The Church’s General Overseer, Rev. Amos Sackie validated the findings of The Bush Chicken’s investigation. He said the patients are kept in chains to keep them from escaping into the streets at night since the church compound is not fenced.
“if there was a fence around the church, there would be no need to chain my patients,” he explained. He said the church receives at least two patients weekly and admitted 15 patients in September alone. The patients are admitted for at most two months.
Without any psychotropic drugs, the spiritual healer said he provides the patients with anointing oil and concentrated water mixed with incense to drink, while he continuously prays for their healing. He said healing mentally ill people is his passion.
“I am troubled every time I see mentally ill persons in the streets especially those cars loaders,” he said.
He said even though he wants to help, the lack of support from government and philanthropic organizations cannot allow him to admit more patients. He said he runs the healing program will little support from patients’ families.
Carter Center Mental Health Program’s Country Representative, Dr. Janice Cooper, frowned at the treatment giving to mental health patients at the church, describing it as unethical.
Angie Tarr Nyakoon, the head of the Mental Health Unit said also condemned that inappropriate treatment of patients by the church’s healing program. She said her department has worked with churches providing healing and caring for mentally ill persons, to provide guidance to avoid such maltreatment.
Carter Center Mental Health Program Training Director, Alexander Blackie said half of all mental illness in youths begins at age 14, most times go undetected and untreated, according to the World Health Organization.
According to Blackie, a WHO report reveals that 20 percent of adolescents may experience mental health problems in any given period of their life, while 50 percent of mental problems are established by age 14, and 75 percent by age 24.
He said most young people are affected by mental illness due to harmful use of alcohol and illicit drugs. He also described Liberia as a breeding ground for mental health illnesses among young people because of the years of civil war.
Meanwhile, the speaker of the 54th National Legislature, Bhofal Chambers has cautioned patients at the E.S Grant Medical Health Clinic against the use of harmful substances, as they have a role to contribute to society. Chambers assured that the government would support them into wealthy ventures that would benefit society.
Featured Photo by Zeze Ballah