Kona Seibure: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 10 October 2018:
Today is World Mental Health Day, focussing the world’s attention on ‘young people and mental health in a changing world’.
And for many young people, growing up in Sierra Leone today means you will either be in an ongoing battle with poverty or experiencing the effects of substance misuse or abuse. This can happen in the homes, schools, the wider community and among peers.
On the other hand, you may also be faced with issues of age discrimination, sexual abuse and exploitation, as well as the effects of other forms of human rights violations – such as domestic violence and stigmatization because of disability.
Young people in Sierra Leone are among the most deprived of their contemporaries globally.
Nevertheless, we expect them to grow up strong, resilient and be able to break the cycles of poverty, abuse, violence, substance misuse and a legacy of poor standards in education.
Past governments have over the years failed to create an enabling environment for them to do so.
The most pressing issues in Sierra Leone today are high scale youth unemployment and poor educational attainment.
Due to the difficulties that such unfavourable situations create, many young people cannot achieve their ambition.
Sadly, they resort to taking hard drugs and indulge in other forms of substance abuse to overcome the difficulties that growing up in Sierra Leone throws at them. Subsequently, most of them become addicted and prone to mental illnesses.
Adolescence is a stage in a young person’s development, when serious mental illnesses can occur and yet our young people know or are taught little or nothing about mental health issues. This is compounded by the strong stigma attached to mental illness in Sierra Leone.
Society discriminates against anyone with a sign of mental health problems, and uses their condition to label them as well as stigmatize the whole family.
Parents live in denial when their children start exhibiting early signs of stress, anxiety and challenging behaviour. They look for other reasons to explain such behaviour, instead of seeking help early to support their kids.
Sierra Leone lacks trained personnel with the right skills. There are inadequate facilities across the country for the delivery of effective mental health care. And where they do exist, the services are poorly equipped with improper treatment delivered to individuals.
The World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) quite recently raised the following key questions:
• What happens when a young person experiences trauma – over and over?
• Where are the services to cater for their needs?
• Where is the information and awareness about mental wellbeing? (WFMH, 2018).
The WFMH also emphasizes that the needs of our young people should be of high importance if we want them to grow up healthy, happy and resilient. It urges us to take a stand and demand more for this vulnerable population, as the future of our country rests with them.
AMHHR will answer the call of the WFMH and continue to promote and urge government to provide services and safe mental health care nationwide, including specialist services for young people who are at different stages of their development and are faced with the difficult tasks of coping with the stresses of education and several traumatic experiences that have never been addressed.
AMHHR will create the enabling platform for young people and stakeholders through our advocacy program, in directly influencing duty bearers to create these specialist services and support networks.
We will work with young people in Sierra Leone to put a dent on the stigma surrounding mental health and help raise awareness of the vital importance of children and young people’s resilience and good mental health across the nation.
To conclude, AMHHR, wishes to compel the authorities in Sierra Leone to reflect on the questions asked by WFMH on this World Mental Day, and take immediate action to resolve the issues highlighted.
As an advocacy service we are limited in our activities due to lack of funding which is a resultant factor of the stigma associated with mental health issues. But we will not allow this to deter us.
We shall continue to strive because we know we owe the young people of Sierra Leone, as future leaders of our nation, an obligation to ensure that they grow up in safe and sustainable environments and are able to achieve their full potentials.
About the author
Kona Seibure is the CEO and Founder of Advocacy Network for Mental Health and Human Rights (AMHHR).
AMHHR is a grassroots mental health advocacy charity dedicated to improving the lives of persons living with serious mental illness and their families in Sierra Leone.
AMHHR is dedicated to the eradication of mental illnesses and to the improvement of the quality of life of all whose lives are affected by mental illness.