15.10.2015 Sierra Leone celebrates Dignity!


This post is written by Carmen Valle – a Mental Health Specialist based in Sierra Leone.

Once more, we’ve celebrated World Mental Health Day in Sierra Leone.

This year felt special, as during October 2014 we couldn’t truly celebrate with as many activities as we wanted to. Ebola had made it impossible.

We were all in high spirit and fully supportive during Saturday’s events. I played my little role. And while seating there, surrounded by champions of Mental Health in the country I couldn’t stop thinking…. “We’ve done so much!”

Many of the special moments that were lived on Saturday could have not been a reality if it hadn’t been for Enabling Access to Mental Health (EAMH) and the other programmes in mental health that CBM has supported in Sierra Leone.

One of those special moments was the recognition of the 20 Mental Health Nurses deployed all across the country in the first ever decentralization of mental health services by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation. These are the nurses that for the past 4 years EAMH has trained and supervised, providing continuous support and capacity building. In one of the most emotive moments of the event, five of those nurses received from the Ministry of Health and Sanitation certificates of merit in recognition of their outstanding performance during 2015. CBM has also contributed to the creation of these District Mental Health Units.

Another very special moment was the speech of Mr Kakay, secretary of the first ever Association of Service Users of Sierra Leone, created by members of the Mental Health Coalition, which is an outcome of EAMH itself. In an event that has the theme of Dignity in Mental Health, Mr Kaikai raised his voice and eloquently expressed what Persons with Psychosocial Disabilities in Sierra Leone want and how they think dignity can be secured. He got a very deserved ovation.

The Deputy Minister of Health and Sanitation also showed his gratitude. He paused in his speech, put the papers down and removed his glasses: “Now, let me tell you something”. He’s not reading any more, he’s speaking out his heart. “ We have to thank Enabling Access to Mental Health so much. They have transformed mental health in Sierra Leone. I want to acknowledge all of them now and express my gratitude”.

The Focal Person for Mental Health at the MoHS, the Chief Nursing Officer, the representative of the Ministry of Social Welfare, the Chairman of the National Commission for Persons with Disability and the Chief Community Health Officer also contributed with statements full of passion, acknowledgement of the work done and commitment to continue doing what still needs to be done. One of those urgent things, as stated by the Deputy Minister, is the review of the Lunacy Act of 1902. The commitment of the Government of Sierra Leone to develop an updated Mental Health Legislation was well established during the event.

By the end of the celebration all attendees committed to dignity. Not as a theme for the day, but as a personal vow that everyone should continuously remember, in every interaction, at all moments.

Happy World Mental Health Day!!