ATLANTA…The Liberian Ministry of Foreign Affairs released the country’s first Mental Health Act and distributed the official handbill in Liberia this week. Distribution of the handbill by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Office of the Deputy Minister for Legal Affairs, signals the official enactment of Liberia’s first law to improve health care for people with mental illnesses and prevent discrimination against them.
The bill, passed by the Liberia House of Representatives on May 24, protects people living with mental health disorders from discrimination and will give access to quality mental health care in all 15 counties. The bill, signed by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, establishes, for the first time, oversight of mental health care through the Ministry of Health and creates a national advisory body on mental health issues. The Mental Health Act also protects the property of people with mental health conditions.
“Access to mental health services is a basic human right. The enactment of this Mental Health Act was needed to markedly improve the health and lives of all Liberians,” said Dr. Eve Byrd, Carter Center Mental Health Program Director. “We are grateful for the Ministry of Health’s perseverance since 2010 in getting this legislation passed, and are honored to work as partners to strengthen Liberia’s capacity to address the mental health and therefore overall health needs of its citizens.”
Previously, this nation of 4.3 million had one psychiatrist and a handful of mental health nurses to meet the needs of at least 300,000 Liberians suffering from mental illnesses. Now it has four psychiatrists and more than 230 mental health clinicians working in health and mental health settings and in communities throughout the country. Since 2012, when a group of stakeholders met to draft the bill, advocates have urged its passage. When the bill came before the Senate, the country’s chief medical officer, Dr. Francis Kateh, health care leaders, professionals, advocates, and mental health service users testified about the potential impact of the bill. President Sirleaf repeatedly called on the Legislature to send her a mental health bill, which she signed in June 2017.
Since 2010, The Carter Center’s Mental Health Program has worked with partners to train mental health clinicians to establish new services in communities. Clinicians have opened 14 clinical practices in prison systems, trained nurse midwives to screen for maternal depression, treated refugees from the Ivory Coast conflict, supported the nation’s first mental health consumer organization, worked in Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs), and provided psychosocial support to individuals and families affected by the Ebola virus. Three classes of graduates have specialized child and mental health for Liberian youth. With funding from the Japan Social Development Fund (JSDF), administered by the World Bank, and the UBS Optimus Foundation, six schools now offer comprehensive school-based clinics staffed by Child and Adolescent Mental Health Clinicians. Forty percent of these 64 child and adolescent specialists provide regular school-linked services across the country.
Source: The Carter Center