News / Africa

Liberia Takes Steps to Increase Mental Health Care Access

James Butty
The psychological impact of nearly 14 years of civil war contributed to a mental health crisis in Liberia.  

According to the Atlanta-based Carter Center of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, the crisis was made worse by misconceptions, stigma, and resulting discrimination surrounding mental illnesses, as well as the lack of mental health care training for health professionals. 

Now, the Carter Center says there has been a dramatic increase in mental health care access across Liberia following the graduation of 24 mostly Liberian mental health clinicians. 

Doctor Janice Cooper, a native Liberian and project leader for the Carter Center’s Mental Health Program in Liberia, said the new workforce will help expand mental health care access to about 70 percent of the country.

“Prior to us coming here, there was one psychiatrist in the country and very few practicing psychiatric nurses. Since 2010, we’ve trained 63 mental health clinicians through our Post-Basic Mental Health Training Program, we have expanded the number of clinicians that are in the field now in 14 out of the 15 counties in Liberia,” she said.

She said Liberia’s nearly 14-year war played a large role in exacerbating the country’s mental health crisis.

“There are a few studies that have been done, mostly limited to a few counties that indicate that as much as 40 percent of our population experience some form of depression and 45 percent of our population experience some form post-traumatic stress disorder,” Cooper said.

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She said the Carter Center’s Mental Health Liberia Program is hoping that some of the graduates who are educators will return to university classrooms to ensure the next generation of primary care workers will be better prepared to address mental health problems.

“One of the things we worked on in addition to training and increasing the capacity of the health care providers is also to work on policy and program so our clinicians can be as good as the resources they have available to them, such as sufficient drugs and medication to treat some mental health disorders, appropriate resources to be able to do counseling,” she said.

Doctor Cooper said the Carter Center and its partners are working closely with the Liberian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare to train a total of mental health workforce of 150 professionals.

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