Nine Liberia Mental Health Champions include Health and Non-Health Professionals, Journalists, and Individuals with Lived Experience of Mental Health Conditions
ATLANTA — The Carter Center and the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in Liberia have announced a new initiative to train nine Liberian citizens from diverse backgrounds to serve two-year terms as “Liberia Mental Health Champions.”
As part of a series of activities leading up to World Mental Health Day today, October 10, the Champions were enthusiastically greeted in an Oct. 5 ceremony filled with dignitaries at Monrovia’s City Hall. Champions are selected by the Center and then trained on the national mental health care burden, how to advocate for better policies, and interventions and treatments available in Liberia. The Champions initiative follows more than a decade of collaboration between The Carter Center, Liberian governmental agencies, health partners, and health facilities – all working together to elevate mental health as a national priority, decrease stigma, and increase access to services. A list of the new Champions and their backgrounds is here.
“Since 2009, The Carter Center has worked closely with the Liberia Ministry of Health to build a sustainable mental health system,” said Carter Center Mental Health Program Director Dr. Eve Byrd. “By dedicating their time to learning and lifting voices, these Mental Health Champions will become effective advocates for reaching our shared goal of a better mental health workforce, improved policies, and increased access to mental health services and affordable psychotropic medications in Liberia.”
At the official launch ceremony last week, former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf spoke about the opportunities ahead for the Champions, the long-standing partnership with The Carter Center, and the 50 years of distinguished mental health advocacy by former U.S. First Lady and Carter Center co-founder Rosalynn Carter. Dr. Benjamin Harris, current president of the Liberia College of Physicians and Surgeons and the first psychiatrist in Liberia, was also in attendance and recognized for being a a national and international leader in mental health.
As part of World Mental Health Day activities this month, the Center’s Liberia team participated in an Oct. 1 march dedicated to raising awareness and focusing on the World Health Organization’s 2022 World Mental Health Day theme, “Making Mental Health & Well-Being for All a Global Priority.”
Today, The Carter Center and advocacy group United for Global Mental Health (UGMH) participated in a World Mental Health Day celebration at the Ministry of Health’s office to convene nongovernmental organizations, youth groups, caregivers, and mental health advocates to celebrate progress and recommit to advancing mental health in Liberia. At the event, Liberian Health Minister Dr. Wilhemina Jallah reinforced the benefits of making investments in mental health, citing a recent financing report developed by The Carter Center and UGMH that discussed findings from a recent jointly authored report on the significant return on investment realized by mental health funding in Liberia. One key finding noted that an increase in mental health spending in Liberia from the currently estimated baseline of US$0.02 per person to US$0.50, US$1 or US$2 per person would avert mental health conditions for up to 113,881 people and restore 10,033 to 40,130 healthy life-years to the population per year.
The Mental Health Champions will help secure resources and share best practices, solutions, and policies that provide hope for those affected by mental health conditions. The Champions’ Center-led field visits and workshops – some of which have begun – provide guidance on how to engage sensitively and effectively in mental health advocacy work. The Champions have developed a comprehensive action plan detailing proposed mental health projects across the country. Plan highlights include:
* National Mental Health Awareness: Champions will be trained to be media spokespeople on key mental health challenges and solutions.
* Youth and School-Based Awareness: Champions will work with the Ministry of Education and school administrators to facilitate the training of students in psychosocial first aid and peer support. The group will leverage social media platforms, videos, and blogs to foster dialogue on mental health and well-being for youth.
* Prison Outreach and Inmate Advocacy: Mental Health Champions will engage the Ministry of Justice Correction Unit to support and raise funds for private rooms for psychological interventions at major prisons.
* Medication Access: Champions will raise awareness about a proposed “no-tariff” law that aims to lower costs on imported mental health medications.
The Champions come from varied backgrounds, including mental health professionals, journalists, a certified public accountant, an economist, and individuals with lived experience of mental health and substance use disorders. A list of Champions with their backgrounds is here.
Selection criteria for Champions included integrity, respect for the dignity and well-being of all citizens, interest in improving mental health in youth and adults, and a passion for advancing human rights in Liberia.
The Carter Center has worked with partners to increase Liberia’s mental health capacity by training 364 mental health clinicians, 140 of whom specialize in children and adolescents; addiction specialists; first responders; and pharmacists.
Find more information on the Center’s initiatives on global mental health policy, stigma, and workforce capacity, go here. Find a 50-year timeline of Carter Center co-founder Rosalynn Carter’s mental health advocacy here.