Can Mental Health Services Spur Economic Recovery in Ebola-ravaged Liberia?

Rob Wipond
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What’s the key to rebuilding Liberian communities and igniting the country’s economic recovery in the wake of the devastation of the Ebola epidemic and civil war? Expanding mental health services, reported articles in Nature, Devex, StarAfrica and other outlets.

A new three-year, $3 million effort to expand mental health services in Liberia is being funded by the government of Japan through a World Bank-administered trust fund, reported Devex. “Developers of the project hope that an increased focus on mental health will help spur economic recovery and growth in the devastated region by helping build social capital and community trust, while fostering positive coping behaviors,” stated Devex. “A new squad of child mental health clinicians will be deployed to approximately 60 schools, while community-based interventions beyond Ebola-affected communities will be strengthened.”

“Some (Ebola-surviving) patients refuse to eat or leave their beds,” explained Nature. “Many blame themselves for contracting the disease. And those who return home are often barred from housing complexes or workplaces.”

“We’re still seeing anxiety, and people in survival mode,” a mental-health nurse with the non-profit International Medical Corps told Nature. “The majority of psychological problems are because the country is frozen, with nothing moving forward.”

The Chief Medical Officer of Liberia, Dr. Bernice Dahn, put numbers to the scope of this new emergency that was demanding immediate action, reported StarAfrica. Due to the Ebola outbreak and years of civil war, Dahn told StarAfrica that “about 400,000 are suffering from mild mental illness, while 115,000 others have mental disorder.”

Dr. Richard Mollica, a mental health adviser for the project and director of the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma, told Devex that these kinds of interventions should be the way of the future. “If you see a development project in a country that’s been through terrible poverty and violence, and there’s no mental health component, something is wrong with that project,” Mollica told Devex.

Can mental health services spur economic growth in Ebola-affected West Africa? (Devex, February 27, 2015)

Ebola’s mental-health wounds linger in Africa (Nature, March 3, 2015)

Liberia: Over 500,000 suffer mental illness due to war, Ebola-Official (StarAfrica, March 6, 2015)

7 COMMENTS

  1. Wow, that’s frightening. But that’s exactly why the so called “mental health” industry exists in all countries, I guess. It’s profitable for those in charge to stigmatize and torture those who’ve been traumatized.

    What a shame the “mental health” treatments only worsen issues of trauma.

  2. “A new three-year, $3 million effort to expand mental health services in Liberia is being funded by the government of Japan through a World Bank-administered trust fund”

    Oh, World Bank… Yeah, they always help the poor guys in 3rd world countries … by drowning them in debt and enforcing austerity. Has worked wonders so far. Liberians would be better off kicking these criminals out of the country.

    “focus on mental health will help spur economic recovery and growth in the devastated region by helping build social capital”

    As opposed to building actual capital in form of schools, hospitals (you know, these places which are kind of useful when Ebola strikes), infrastructure, public housing etc. I’m sure that you hand out some happy pills and people will discover they don’t have any need for these extravagant utilities. I’m starting to think that psychiatry is really a tool for enforcing the neoliberal social order.

    “”If you see a development project in a country that’s been through terrible poverty and violence, and there’s no mental health component, something is wrong with that project,” Mollica told Devex. ”
    No, that simply means that people are concentrating on important things and not on your harmful bs.
    “”A new squad of child mental health clinicians will be deployed to approximately 60 schools”
    How about, you know, real doctors? Those who actually can teach people who to contain spread of real diseases?

    • Yep, B.

      If the World Bank were to say, give a lot more money to Doctors Without Borders, help Liberia expand and integrate their medical services for basic care and containment, then pay for the development and testing of an effective Ebola vaccine, then things might start looking up for the foreseeable future for all of them.

      I fail to see how Western style mental health care is going to translate for Liberians. Doctors Without Borders is pretty good at helping locals find local help.

    • We don’t want to actually halt the spread of disease. We just want people not to get too upset when their friends or their family members die unnecessarily because no one in the “modern” world gives a crap about whether West Africans live or die. Because if they start getting upset, they may start rebelling, and we KNOW how upsetting rebellion is to the status quo…

      —- Steve

  3. Dr. Richard Mollica, a mental health adviser for the project and director of the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma, told Devex that these kinds of interventions should be the way of the future. “If you see a development project in a country that’s been through terrible poverty and violence, and there’s no mental health component, something is wrong with that project,”

    No, he is wrong: If you see a development project in a country that’s been through terrible poverty and violence, and it does not address trauma by building on the ways that culture have traditionally dealt with such things then something is wrong with that project.

    Here are a few examples of such projects – see page 98 – 108 of this: http://www.peacedirect.org/wp-content/uploads/War-Prevention-Works.pdf

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