6 December 2012

Liberia: Plight of Mentally Ill Patients Appalling


The appalling plight of mentally ill patients dwelling in street corners and fending survival in heaps of debris around the country projects a distressing scenario to that segment of citizens who are most often ostracized by relatives and national government. Their neglect is not only unconstitutional, but also dehumanizing as it relates to the equitable distribution of wealth to vulnerable groups in society.

Article (11 a) on fundamental rights states that all persons are born equally free and independent and have certain natural, inherent and inalienable rights, among which are the right of enjoying and defending life and liberty, of pursuing and maintaining the security of the person and of acquiring, possessing and protecting property, subject to such qualifications as provided for in the constitution.

However, in a "sharp contrast" to protect and defend the rights to life and liberty of mentally ill patients, the government has been somehow "lackadaisical" in their constitutional obligation to allocate resources to construct major centers around the country that will host, treat, feed and protect this vulnerable population.

While survivors of 14 years of civil conflict leaped through the crisis with their bodies intact, the same cannot always be said of their minds. In an interview with psychiatrics, they attributed the astronomical increase in the number of mentally ill patients to drug abuse, horrible experiences from active participation in the war, and other "untraceable" causes.

Evidently, although this writer maintains neutrality in protecting all vulnerable groups in society, however, the grim reality confronting mentally ill patients is that they are 'neglected' and often receives minimal attraction in national budget as compared to the Group of 77; the Deaf; visually impaired, among others.

Mentally ill patients have not also attractive members of the National Legislature that would enable them draft a legislation that would reinforce their constitutional rights to survival, protection, medication and security.

During the country's 14 years of calamity, funds intended for the health and protection of mentally ill patients were allegedly diverted to other purposes, while the infrastructure housing them at the Catherine Mills Rehabilitation Center on Duport road was looted and buildings lying in ruin.

Pathetically, for most mentally ill patients, hospitals become their destined home, and ignorance about their fate often results in stigma and neglect. Care for mentally ill patients often relies on the use of forcible restraints in both institutions and homes.

In most instances, mentally ill patients are often accused of being possessed or branded as witches. Here in Liberia, spiritual healers are regularly employed to 'deliver' them (mentally ill patients) from their ailment. They are often chained and sometimes starved so as not to feed the demon inside them.

Mentally ill patients are part of the society and deserve more than being neglected. However, in some quarters, mentally ill persons are given less or no family support at all, thus leaving their situation to get worse day by day. The plight of mentally ill persons should be taken seriously, because these are people who are living with us, so we should not stigmatize them in society.

It is high time for society to take good care of mentally ill patients and give them the necessary support they deserve, instead of isolating them. The notion people have of the mentally ill is bad; and the attitude of society towards them is not least encouraging.

Mentally ill are really cursed, not by God, but by societies around them. In my career surveys around Monrovia and elsewhere reporting human rights' violations, I've not seen a more neglected or vulnerable group than the mentally ill patients in Liberia.

Now, in an exertion to salvage the plight of insane patients, the administration of the John F. Kennedy (JFK) Memorial center announced plans that it was prepared to reoccupy and rehabilitate the Catherine Mills mental home located at the rehabilitation center on Duport road.

The once resourceful 90 acres mental facility inundated with patients loitering around its facilities now housed illegal squatters displaced from their homes during the course of the 14 years civil war.

With the cessation of the civil war and the rising lunatic population, JFK authorities say they have garnered resources to tackle the plight of mentally ill patients in the country. The mental hospital according to documents was purchased by a former legislator Ellen Mills Scarboroug.

According to historical narratives, the Liberian government first implemented a formal mental health care service in 1960's after a group of concerned Liberian women fervently advocated and championed the cause of mentally ill patients in society.

The women mobilized support from both national and international sources, and garnered funds and resources to construct a modern psychiatric facility outside Monrovia.

In their resolve, the women built the center on a 90-acre parcel of land donated by a former Liberian Legislator, Ellen Mills Scarboroug, who was a member of the group and named it the Catherine Mills rehabilitation center in honor of Mrs. Scarboroug's mother, Catherine Mills.

Currently, the 'only functional' mental care hospital in the country is been rented from the Grants...named Grant medical hospital located on Duport road. However, the Grant hospital is not spacious enough to accommodate the growing number of people in that category.

Although regrettable, however, authorities in solidarity with their plight said they cannot afford to abandon them at street corners in Monrovia and elsewhere anymore because they are humans and therefore needs government's assistance.

Woefully, mentally ill patients are among the most critical individuals among patients throughout the world because independently, they are unable to pay medical bills and sometimes do not recover from their illness until their demise at the center.

Limited data obtained from health accreditation survey reinforces poor penetration rates for mental health services, overwhelmingly inferior quality in many places where services are purportedly provided, untrained clinicians and low availability of needed medications.

Towards this end, I wish to re-emphasized that government must ensure that mentally ill patients receive the necessary support that will aid their treatment and rehabilitation by improving and constructing facilities throughout the country.

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