Liberia Joins Commitment to Add Psychosocial Support to Aid Package in Mental Health

Liberia has joined 24 other countries and 10 international aid organizations to sign a declaration of commitment to include psychosocial support as a standard part of aid package in mental health crisis situations.

According to a release, the signing ceremony took place on Thursday, October 24 at a mental health conference in Amsterdam, as part of a series of summits on global mental health that the U.K. initiated in 2018. The conference was also aimed at mobilizing commitment from countries and organizations to scaling up sustainable and high-quality mental health psychosocial support during and after disasters and conflicts.

The 24 countries that signed the declaration included Afghanistan, The Netherlands, Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya, Australia, Bangladesh, Burundi, Canada, France, Germany, India, and Italy.

International aid organizations which signed the commitment also included the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, International Committee of the Red Cross, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, International Organization for Migration, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICEF, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and WHO.

By signing the declaration, the countries and organizations agreed that mental health and psychosocial support must also become a standard part of humanitarian response in crisis situations.

Deputy Health Minister Norwu Howard represented Liberia at the conference, while the head of the Carter Center Mental Health Program in Liberia, Benedict Dossen, and the program’s consultant, Janice Cooper, also represented their organization.

In 2017, the Liberian legislature enacted a mental health law that calls for the protection and promotion of the fundamental human rights of all persons with mental illness in the country. However, implementation and enforcement have been lagging.

A mental health advocacy group had recently petitioned the legislature to ensure that the National Mental Health Policy is prioritized within the 2019-2020 budget to safeguard its implementation.

The declaration signed at the Amsterdam conference recalled the right to the highest attainable standard of health as part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the World Health Organization’s Mental Health Action Plan for 2013-2030, and the inclusion of mental health and well-being in the Sustainable Development Goals.

“The declaration underlined the right for everyone to enjoy the highest standard of physical and mental health,” the release said.

It said the participants further stressed that armed conflicts, natural disasters, and other emergencies take an immense toll on people’s mental health and psychosocial wellbeing, pointing out the difficulty in quantifying the full range of emotional, behavioral, and psychosocial impacts of such situations on people.

“People with pre-existing mental health conditions and psychosocial disabilities are disproportionately affected in situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies, often experiencing exclusion, human rights violations, and facing immense barriers in accessing protection, appropriate care, and life-saving interventions,” the release also mentioned.

These barriers, according to the press release, can be physical, attitudinal, cultural, social, structural, and financial.

“Persons affected with mental health illness might also be at higher risk for separation from caregivers or family members as well as targeted violence, exploitation, and abuse including sexual and gender-based violence,” it added.

The conference participants further agreed that affected persons and communities should be enabled to participate in the development and delivery of services for their benefits. They agreed to integrate and scale-up mental health and psychosocial support in humanitarian responses and recognize the need for evidence and innovation to accelerate responses at all levels of support.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article said Health Minister Wilhelmina Jallah represented Liberia at the conference. It has been corrected to show that deputy health minister for administration Norwu Howard represented Liberia. Featured photo Amsterdam Conference on Mental Health

Zeze Ballah

Zeze made his journalism debut as a high school reporter at the LAMCO Area School System. In 2016 and 2017, the Press Union of Liberia awarded Zeze with the Photojournalist of the Year award. Zeze was also the union's 2017 Health Reporter of the Year. He is a Health Journalism Fellow with Internews.

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