Mental Health in Côte d’IvoireCôte d’Ivoire, located in West Africa with a population of roughly 22 million, is the largest economy in West Africa due to its exportation of cocoa and cashew nuts. However, one element of this amazing country that is often overlooked is the mental health facilities and help available to those who need it. 

Mental Health Statistics

As of 2007, the government has funded a program titled the National Program for Mental Health (also known as PNSM) which allows civilians to receive the help that they require and deserve. This could be due to the aftermath of the First Ivorian Civil War from 2002-2007, in which many people were left with unresolved mental and psychological issues. There is no exact number of people who are suffering from mental health issues in Côte d’Ivoire, but there are only three mental health facilities for 21 million people. 

However, due to recent developments, this statistic is about to change; many charities are introducing schemes and programs targeted at reducing the number of people who are suffering from mental health issues and are unable to get help. 

Bluemind Foundation

The Bluemind Foundation is a nonprofit charity set up in 2021 to help tackle women’s mental health battles throughout Africa. Their first mission for Côte d’Ivoire was to introduce the ‘Heal by Hair’ program

The program is designed to give hairdressers the skills and knowledge that they will need in order to recognize the warning signs of somebody who is battling with mental health and how to adapt their visit to make it the most beneficial. This scheme was introduced to over 200 hairdressers throughout Côte d’Ivoire in August 2022 and is aiming to be completed around March 2024. 

This project is a prime example of how a community can be a massive help when tackling both local and global issues, as opening the lines of communication between hairdressers and clients creates a friendly and secure environment for conversations to occur. There are also charities that use other vectors like religion to improve the number of people suffering, such as Brothers of Charity. 

Brothers of Charity

The Brothers of Charity was first opened in 1807 by Fr. Peter Joseph Triest with the aim of teaching young religious men to care for the elderly. However, their services were first introduced to Côte d’Ivoire in 1992 when the Congregation opened a house in Abidjan, allowing the brothers to receive both spiritual advice and professional training. This then led to the two-year-long development of a psychiatric hospital. 

Looking Up

Thanks to charities such as ‘Heal by Hair’ and ‘Brothers of Charity’ alongside the development of government-funded programs such as PSNM, more help is on the way to address mental health in Côte d’Ivoire. This means that the population of Côte d’Ivoire can now finally process the traumatic events that they have experienced so far this century and move toward a life of healing.

– Ella Bushell
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Africa
Recently, doctors have been sounding the alarm bells on the ongoing global mental health crisis, going as far as to describe the worldwide support for mental health as “pitifully small.” When there is support for mental health issues, the spotlight is centered largely on more developed nations, leaving mental health disorders to be untreated and thrive in developing countries where healthcare systems are generally weak and inaccessible to the general population. However, nonprofits and NGOs are now refocusing their efforts on creating better outcomes for people suffering from poor mental health in less-acclimated nations. Mental health in Africa requires attention, but luckily, some organizations are working there to make a difference.

Mental health support across the continent of Africa, in particular, is notably poor. In 2022, Lesotho, a small country surrounded by South Africa, had the most suicides per capita in the world at 72.4 per 100,000, with surrounding countries displaying similar statistics. The high suicide rate and lackluster mental health across Africa stem from issues such as the prevalence AIDS, widespread poverty, conflict and general lack of resources.

Support for People in Africa

When people living in Africa face these struggles, they seldom receive support. In 2015, Sierra Leone, a nation of 7 million, had only one mental health facility which was to support 104 patients. In Nigeria and South Africa, two of the continent’s more affluent nations, only 10% and 25% of mentally ill citizens have access to a psychiatrist, respectively.

Poor mental health can have dire outcomes for those who do not receive help. While many acknowledge the correlation between mental illness and suicide, lesser emphasis has been placed on the association between subpar mental health and poverty. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, poverty can intensify the symptoms of mental disorders and increase the likelihood of the onset of illness. Moreover, mental health issues can also increase the odds that someone falls below the poverty line. Here are five organizations fighting global poverty by improving mental health in Africa.

5 Organizations Improving Mental Health in Africa

  1. StrongMinds: Concentrated in Uganda and Zambia, Strongminds provides mental health care to impoverished women living in Africa. It specifically helps treat depression in women by organizing group talk therapy sessions for underprivileged women delivered by community health workers. According to the organization, it has served more than 140,000 women and has an 80% success rate in helping patients recover from their symptoms. In July 2022, the organization received donations from The Inner Foundation, an organization that has raised more than $100,000,000 to support different mental health initiatives.
  2. Sentebale: Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and Prince Seeiso of Lesotho founded Sentebale in 2006 to support the children of Botswana and Lesotho in response to the countries’ AIDS epidemics. Sentebale means “forget-me-not” in the Sesotho language, which relates to the organization’s mission of not forgetting some of Africa’s most vulnerable children. Sentebale delivers sexual education, proposes improvements to the country’s healthcare system and provides psycho-social support to the children of Lesotho and Botswana. The organization works directly with communities to help children that the epidemic affected become more “empowered, healthy and resilient.” It also works to gather support from the governments of Lesotho, Botswana and the United Kingdom to support their mission of improving mental health across Africa.
  3. Dolen Cymru: Founded in 1985, Dolen Cymru is a Welsh organization supporting the nation of Lesotho. It has established various programs, but its core project has been developing Lesotho’s mental healthcare system. Uniquely, Dolen Cymru works primarily with the actual doctors and health educators of Lesotho through the country’s Ministry of Health, providing them with WHO-developed training. According to the foundation, it has trained more than 100 healthcare professionals using an innovative program including discussions about “human rights, stigma and cultural beliefs.”
  4. African Mental Health Research and Training Foundation (AMHRTF): AMHRTF is an NGO based in Kenya that focuses on mental health research and treatment. Its headquarters are located in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. The organization directly serves the urban population, though it also operates a phone line and telehealth services for people located in more isolated regions that are unable to visit in person. The organization treats a wide variety of mental illnesses, helping patients with mental health issues including substance abuse disorders, PTSD and depression. In 2019, AMHRTF began supporting the CREATE Kenya project. CREATE Kenya is focused on forming a successful social business that provides Kenyans dealing with mental illness an “evidence-based Recovery-Oriented Psychosocial Rehabilitation Toolkit” to help them gain employment and support their wellbeing.
  5. IOM Libya: IOM, or the International Organization for Migration, is an agency of the U.N. operating in numerous countries to support migrants and refugees throughout the world. IOM Libya is the organization’s branch operating in Libya, focusing on the nation’s migration crisis. Libya is an especially popular location for refugees because of its treacherous sea route to Italy through the Mediterranean Sea. Recently, the organization has helped 12,000 stranded migrants return to their homes. For these refugees and migrants that remain in the country, IOM Libya also provides mental health support because it recognizes the tremendous stress that migrants may face on their journeys. Since 2011, the IOM has been providing counseling, group support and other activities in eight Libyan cities to help migrants recover from their traumas. The organization also trains first responders to better understand mental health issues.

Looking Ahead

These five organizations have been beneficial to communities in Africa by improving mental health care. Through their continued work, Africans should be able to receive the support they need.

– Ryan Morton
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Mental Health in Africa
Africa still has a long way to go in terms of mental health awareness and care. Mental health is highly stigmatized and there are not enough mental health facilities or resources for the people. In Africa, the average number of psychiatrists is 0.05/100,000 population, while in Europe it is 9/100,000 population. Here are five challenges to mental health in Africa.

5 Challenges to Mental Health in Africa

  1. Poverty: There is a strong correlation between different mental illnesses and the socioeconomic status of patients. According to The Conversation, when people are stressed about searching for basic resources for survival like food and stable sources of income, this stress affects their mental health. Furthermore, the healthcare expenses are high, making them inaccessible to some. People with mental health problems may also have more trouble with functioning effectively which can harm their financial resources as well.
  2. War and Conflict: Various African countries endure tribal wars and terrorist groups. These wars affect the population’s mental health — especially the victims. Commonwealth Health reported that more than half “of refugees have mental health problems from post-traumatic stress disorder to chronic mental illness.”
  3. Insufficient Resources: Most African countries spend less than 1% of their budget on mental health. Additionally, mental health is not a popular subject; therefore, there are few higher education facilities teaching about it. The stigma around it prevents graduates from enrolling in mental health-related programs. As a result of this shortage, the Mental Health Innovation Network states that “90% of people with mental illnesses have no access to treatment, especially in poor and in rural areas.”
  4. Lack of Awareness: Mental illness is a taboo topic in some African cultures. A study done by BioMed Central in Northern Nigeria found that at least 34.3% of respondents believed that drug and alcohol abuse was “a major cause of mental illness.” Commonwealth Health reports that the widespread stigma makes families hide their members who are suffering from mental illness because of the discrimination they have to endure.
  5. Other Diseases: Many African countries are still fighting a number of deadly communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, cholera, malaria and tuberculosis. As a result, the governments of these nations prioritize helping people survive these illnesses. A mere 3% of Nigeria’s health budget is invested in mental health: the other 97% goes to other health departments. This means that people with functional mental disorders are usually unnoticed and have difficulties accessing appropriate professional help.

Despite all the issues, progress is steadily being made. In Burundi, lay community counselors started screening people and encouraging dialogue about mental health. They emphasized educating parents about better ways to discipline children without causing trauma. Additionally, cognitive behavioral therapy has been helping people in Sub-Saharan Africa to deal with depression. Crisis assistance hotlines were also put in place to help those struggling with suicidal thoughts and other urgent crises. All these intervention alternatives highly depend on the community counselors to integrate the strategies with their respective cultures in order to provide relevant solutions.

Many African nations are trying to invest more in mental health and encourage people to seek professional help. Moving forward, countries must continue to support mental health research and intervention measures, prioritizing both the mental and physical health of Africans.

Renova Uwingabire
Photo: Flickr