An article by mental health experts in the Lancet Global Health has highlighted the “unique and important role” of mental health nurses in Sierra Leone in supporting people affected by the devastating mudslides and flooding in August 2017. There are only 19 mental health nurses in the West African country, all of whom were trained as part of CBM’s five-year programme to improve mental health services in Sierra Leone.
“I’m proud to see that the mental health nurses trained by CBM and our partners continue to provide such vital support in Sierra Leone. Our programme came to an end last year, but the benefits are still being experienced”, says CBM Mental Health Adviser Dr Carmen Valle, who coordinated and provided technical support to the Enabling Access to Mental Health programme in Sierra Leone.
Before mental health nurses were trained as part of CBM’s programme, Sierra Leone had only one retired psychiatrist at the only psychiatric hospital. The training of the nurses allowed to decentralize services and create one mental health unit in each of the country’s 14 districts.
Carmen explains: “21 nurses were trained initially, but unfortunately one of them contracted Ebola and passed away in 2014 and another one died during labour in 2015, testimonies of the limitations in the country’s health system. Our gratitude and recognition goes to Ibrahim and Alice.”
CBM’s Enabling Access to Mental Health programme in Sierra Leone was funded by the European Union. Further supervision was provided for another year and a half, with funding by GIZ.
Mental health care after emergencies
Only 2 years after the country was declared free from the terrible Ebola epidemic that affected 14,000 people and killed almost 4,000, an estimated 5,951 people were affected by the flooding and mudslides in Sierra Leone on 14 August last year. Over 500 people died, with whole communities destroyed and many families left homeless.
Providing immediate psychological support – or psychological first aid (PFA) to people affected by disasters is vital to reduce the chances that they will develop long-term mental health problems. According to the Lancet article’s authors, who include psychiatrist Dr Stephen Sevalie and Dr Alie Wurie, Director of Non Communicable Diseases and Mental health at Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health, mental health nurses played a vital role in delivering this support:
“We would like to highlight the unique and important role of mental health nurses in Sierra Leone… Within 1 week after the mudslide, the nurses delivered over 1000 interventions to affected individuals. They also led in-depth PFA sessions with mortuary staff, ambulance workers, and burial teams because these workers were deemed potentially susceptible to development of psychological sequelae.”
CBM also launched an emergency programme in Sierra Leone to support people affected by the mudslides, distributing food, tarpaulins and hygiene kits, helping prevent the spread of infectious diseases and training social workers to provide psychological support.
Read the full article in the Lancet Global Health.