In response to the ongoing challenges in mental health in Sierra Leone, the Mental Health Coalition-Sierra Leone (MHC) was founded in August, 2011. A national consultative meeting was facilitated for individuals and organizations directly or indirectly affected by mental health issues.2 It was at this meeting that these stakeholders agreed that there was a need to confront the ongoing mental health issues in Sierra Leone. A three day training workshop followed, coordinated to prepare interested stakeholders for the founding of the MHC. An Executive Committee (EXCO) was elected by attendees and the MHC was born.
The MHC’s stated purpose is to create a national body that empowers stakeholders to advocate for their needs, thus raising the profile of mental health in Sierra Leone. Since its inception, the MHC has actively developed as an advocacy movement with a constitution highlighting the organization’s goals:
- Advocate with government bodies to pay more attention to mental health issues and work systematically to improve services for people with mental illness
- Coordinate activities between NGOs and governmental agencies, allowing space for and facilitating networking
- Empower stakeholders, particularly service users so that they can clearly voice their own priorities
- Spread awareness about mental health and promote mental health in the general population
- Support the empowerment of service users in Sierra Leone
- Act as an advisory and monitoring body for the national mental health programme (strategic plan implementation, implementation of this project), and for other organisations requiring advice and information on mental health issues in Sierra Leone
The MHC has since matured and is now seen as the main reference point for mental health in the country. Within the MHC itself, there are subcommittees addressing: special events, research, medicines, training, awareness raising, WHO’s QualityRights Tool Kit,3 legislation and, most recently, Ebola. Regular quarterly meetings take place with all members to share the progress of the subcommittees. Annual meetings also take place to review the Terms of Reference, to build organizational capacity and to elect EXCO members. In 2012, the MHC registered as a non-profit organization with the Government of Sierra Leone and is now able to independently run programmes.
From the time of the MHC’s launch in September 2011, the group has made significant progress in its aims. Under the group’s influence, key national mental health milestone have been achieved, including: launching the National Mental Health Policy,4 integrating mental health into the national Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) II: Agenda for Prosperity and establishing a national Mental Health Steering Committee at the Ministry.
During the Ebola disease outbreak (2014-2015), the MHC demonstrated the ability to support Government initiatives during challenging times. The MHC became one of the key partners of both the Ministry of Health & Sanitation and the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender & Children’s Affairs in advocating for the inclusion of a mental health & psychosocial support activities within the broader emergency response. Together, with government, the MHC Ebola Subcommittee coordinated new initiatives with resources already available in country while promoting the inclusion of psychosocial care in the country’s emergency recovery phase plans.