Joseph F. Kamara: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 10 October 2019:
Today, 10th October 2019, has been designated by the World Health Organization “(WHO”) as “World Mental Health Day”, to promote awareness of mental health in people all over the world. This year, the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) has decided to make “suicide prevention” the main theme of World Mental Health Day.
The past few decades have witnessed the gradual increase of suicidal behaviour which has reached alarming statistical levels the world over. Thankfully, in Sierra Leone, records on Suicide, have remain low, over the past years.
While the WHO has made suicide a priority issue, I will rather redirect the focus to physical violence against Mental Health victims. It is important to emphasize that for a number of years, physical violence, such as sexual assault, rape, wounding and torture, have generated the greatest interest of most Governments.
The recent spate of violence against the person in Sierra Leone, has reached a worrisome level for any peace loving citizen. Reports of threats of violence and physical attacks likened to Mafiosi gangsterism of the 1940s, have reared its ugly head and surprisingly unaddressed, and rife with impunity. Of greater concern is the exposure of mental health patients to these vicious physical attacks and rape.
I vividly recall that in my youthful days in Makeni, we had a mentally challenged lady by the name of Ya Alimamy. I had seen her pregnant on two occasions, and in my young mind, quite curious as to who could be the culprit. One side had it that some other patient could have done the deed. (Photo: Joseph F. Kamara).
But alas, when the child was born, rumours had it also, that the evidence produced was strongly middle eastern genetically. The truth may never be known, but she must have been exploited because of her circumstance.
In a more recent vintage, videos of ‘Blakka’, a barber, with mental challenges was seen bloodied and battered, with no trace of the assailants. The social media is replete with videos of torture, beatings and acid being poured on victims of violence in our country.
On one or two occasions, the perpetrators were identified, but no action was taken or known to have been taken. Impunity continues to linger in the corridors of crime.
Let this be a clarion call for the security apparatus of the State, to rise up and live up to expectations. Politicising state security is a bedrock for national chaos and war. History has taught us that state security has helped to fuel most of the riots of today. For instance, the Umbrella protests in Hong Kong and the Green Vests in France, to name but a few. It will be a disservice, if we sit still and say nothing, out of fear.
Furthermore, we call for the formulation of a National Plan for Mental Health, to improve and promote the mental health of all Sierra Leonean inhabitants, using preventive strategies, from a family and community care approach. Thus, this plan must focus on Regulation and Human Rights; and the Provision of Mental Health Care.
A well formulated and efficiently managed National Plan for Mental Health, will directly address one of the major concerns of citizens in this area, which is, the care for their rights.
These rights should be safeguarded within legislation; however, there is still no Mental Health Law in the country.
One will suggest therefore, the drafting of a Bill for Mental Health Law “To recognise and guarantee the fundamental rights of the people with mental illness or disability, in specific, their right to personal liberty and their right to healthcare”.
Thus, this Bill will cater for the judicial regularisation of the care, protection, and dignity of those facing mental health problems in terms of treatment and hospitalisation.
To aspire towards achieving an improved mental health care, let it be known that it takes all stakeholders, inclusive of the private sector, to attain that goal.
In an allegorical sense, it takes both the sun and the rain to grow a palm tree.
Let this be a gentle reminder to everyone who feels stuck in a tuber, waiting only for the rains and forgetting that the rays of the sun, will have to shine, to complete the growth.
In today’s economic challenges, when everything seems dark – it’s important to appreciate the sparkles of light. A well-defined and national cohesive political will, shall provide sunlight to permeate through the dark crevice of our governance structure.
May the Mental World Health Day lighten our vison and understanding of offering protection to the vulnerable, especially those affected by mental health issues.
About the author
Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara is one of Sierra Leone’s presidential aspirants and a legal luminary, with years of experience as a Barrister. He is the former Attorney General and minister of justice of Sierra Leone. He was also the country’s head of the Anti-Corruption Commission. He currently runs a law firm in Freetown.