[#WHD2017 Africa Blog Series] Inspiring African innovations: Mental Health Coalition, Sierra Leone

This blog is part of our series celebrating World Health Day 2017. This year's theme is Depression: Let's Talk and we're showcasing inspiring innovations addressing depression across Africa.

MHIN Africa innovation on depression 11: Mental Health Coalition – Sierra Leone​

The first mental health coalition in Sierra Leone, Mental Health Coalition empowers stakeholders to advocate for their needs.

Tell us about your country’s context and the circumstances that inspired your innovation

The establishment of the Mental Health Coalition - Sierra Leone (MHC-SL) is to advocate for the human rights and dignity of all those affected by and working to improve mental ill-health; including service users, their families and service providers. As its overall objective, the MHC raises awareness and campaign for increased national commitment to mental health issues in Sierra Leone.

Its vision is a Sierra Leone Society, providing non–discriminatory and high quality care and support for people with mental health problems, also protecting human rights and dignity of service users, their families and service providers.

As part of its strategy over the years, the MHC-SL has been using three main approaches in carrying out its work - hence the expression of its intrinsic motivation:

  • Awareness Raising – It raises the much-needed awareness around the burden of mental illness in Sierra Leone and campaigns for increased national commitment to, and resources for, mental health issues and services in Sierra Leone whilst building national capacity to care for and support those with mental health needs.
  • Advocacy – The Coalition is dedicated to advocate for the rights of service users and service providers, for an increased national interest in mental health issues. The motivation for this drive is that change is possible when key actors are first of all knowledgeable of their rights and employ the necessary channels and steps to ensure that those rights are adequately addressed. The MHC engages individuals and communities to join in the advocacy/lobbying process with the government and its related institutions to ensure the best policies, laws, budget and services are made available (and where appropriate accessible). It pushes for mental health to be mainstreamed at all levels in the country.  
  • Capacity Building – the MHC-SL also took along the approach of equipping and empowering its membership, health care providers, MH service users and family support group members each in its interest and/or specialty for a holistic mental health service system in the health sector of the country. This has come a long way in the push for prioritizing of this long-neglected component of health.

What aspect of your project are you most excited about? How is the project innovative or unique?

Since the Founding of the MHC-SL, we have gone through the process of registering with the government to operate as a Local Civil Society Organization (LCSO) as well as a Local Non-Governmental Organization (LNGO).

Out of the few projects we were fortunate to have implemented, the MHC-SL is very excited about the efforts ‘Building Back Better (BBB) Project’. This is because the coalition has exhibited a strong leadership in:

Ensuring that the Users and Family Support Group has its autonomy - as it is now in the process of registering as a Community Based Organization. ‘We can best support Users and not do it for them’ - A slogan of the MHC.

Establishment of a directorate for mental health and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation (Government of Sierra Leone) for the first time - as a result of the ongoing advocacy endeavor is also a very exciting achievement for the MHC as this is the first time ever such achievement is made.

Moving from institutional-based to community mental health care. Increased interest in the sector by both public and private actors and increased in the number of patients that seeks and receives mental health care is also an exciting revelation for the MHC - this is a product of ongoing awareness raising.

Have you noticed an impact ‘on the ground’? What is the best feedback you have received (from service users, team members, or otherwise)?

There has been an enormous visible impact in the sector since the formation and leading involvement of the MHC-SL in the mental health sector. An example would be the scaling up of mental health care – from one psychiatrist (retired now) to two psychiatrist Doctors; from institution-based care to community-based mental health care; from exclusion of the patient to inclusion into advocacy activities; from the oldest lunacy act to the ongoing drafting of the new mental health act; from exclusive traditional healing to referral from traditional healers to mental health units in hospitals, etc.

What’s next?

  • The completion of the ongoing mental health act drafting and enactment by the legislator
  • Implementation on the newly reviewed mental health policy and strategy by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and its partners
  • Establishment of a career pathway for mental health nurses by the government.
  • Ensuring a functional procurement, storage and distribution of psychotropic medication using channels in the government health.

What is the one message about depression you want people to take away from your innovation?

“There is no health without mental health - and as other NCDs, mental health conditions can be managed.”

For more African innovations featured in this series, please visit the [#WHD2017 Africa Blog Series].

Training, education and capacity building
All disorders
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