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Liberia Expands Access to Mental Health Professionals

Liberia Expands Access to Mental Health Professionals

Kakata, Margibi – Twenty-one clinicians specializing in child and adolescent mental health graduated Friday in Kakata City, Liberia, from a training developed by The Carter Center’s Mental Health Program in partnership with the Liberia Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection.

These graduates, the second cohort of clinicians focused on children and youth from the partnership, will provide mental health and psychosocial care in schools, clinics and other child and youth-centered settings.

The graduates add to the 187 mental health professionals previously trained in the collaboration to significantly increase access to mental health services in Liberia.

Those clinicians are now working in primary care clinics and hospitals across all 15 counties to provide much needed care as the country seeks to strengthen its mental health services.

The group of Liberian nurses, physician assistants, and registered midwives completed a free, six-month, Child and Adolescent Post-Basic Mental Health Training Program at the Kakata Rural Teacher Training Institute, in Margibi County, Liberia.

"Liberia is making a brighter future for all of its citizens by investing in the mental health of adults, children, and adolescents," said former U.S. First Lady and Carter Center Co-founder Rosalynn Carter.

Liberia is on course to reach its goal of expanding access to mental health care to 70 percent of the population within the next few years.

Previously, this nation of 4.3 million had one psychiatrist to meet the needs of at least 300,000 Liberians suffering from mental illnesses.

Graduates of The Carter Center program passed a credentialing exam in February from the Liberian Board of Nursing and Midwifery and the Liberia Physician Assistants Association to practice as licensed mental health clinicians.

This allows them to return to their counties of practice as child and adolescent mental health specialists and to practice in primary care settings that focus on children and adolescents or to begin working in school-based clinics. These graduates are also critical to Liberia's post-outbreak psycho-social response to Ebola.

"This class of graduates greatly enhances our mental health services in Liberia. The Carter Center program graduates have provided life-changing mental health and psychosocial support services throughout Liberia, especially for those facing the aftermath of the Ebola epidemic," said Dr. Bernice Dahn, Minister of Health in Liberia.

Since 2010, mental health clinicians trained by the Carter Center program have made a lasting impact in their communities by establishing new services at the ground level.

Clinicians have opened 14 clinical practices in prison systems, trained nurse midwives to screen for maternal depression, treated refugees from the Ivory Coast conflict, supported the nation's first mental health consumer organization, worked in Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs) and provided psychosocial supports to individuals and families affected by the Ebola virus.

This new cohort of child and adolescent mental health clinicians is assisting in these efforts by providing specialized care to Liberian youth. Seven schools now have clinicians in their clinics or have regular visits by mental health clinicians.

"With every group of clinicians trained, there is enthusiasm around how they will contribute to gaps in the still emerging mental health system. As a child mental health specialist, it is a personal fulfillment to have child and adolescent health mental health providers in our workforce.

We are proud to add to our specialized group of child and adolescent mental health clinicians from all over the country," said Dr. Janice Cooper, a native Liberian and project lead for the Carter Center's mental health initiative in Liberia.

The Child and Adolescent Post-Basic Mental Health Training program is part of a three-year initiative to address the psychological effects of Liberia's Ebola crisis and to promote psychosocial health in the country.

The project, Supporting Psychosocial Health and Resilience in Liberia, is funded by Japan through the Japanese Social Development Fund, a trust fund administered by the World Bank. The project is expected to reach approximately 18,000 beneficiaries in Montserrado (housing Monrovia) and Margibi counties.

In addition to promoting long-term health and resilience through the newly credentialed child and adolescent mental health clinicians, the project provides support to respond to the intermediate psychosocial impact of Ebola.

The Carter Center, in collaboration with Liberian stakeholders, has trained Ebola first responders in self-care, facilitated Community Healing Dialogues for Ebola-affected families, and trained health and social workers to provide community-based mental health care and family psycho-education.

These and other efforts through this project offer support and capacity-building for individuals and communities affected by Ebola.

The psychological impact of more than a decade of civil conflict, which ended in 2003, has contributed to a mental health crisis in Liberia that has been intensified by: misconceptions, stigma, and the resulting discrimination surrounding mental illnesses; lack of mental health care training for health professionals; and inadequate supplies of necessary medications. The Ebola crisis exacerbated these needs.

While every Liberian county now has at least three mental health clinicians, there remains a need to build up services in places with immense treatment gaps. The largest concentration of Carter Center-trained clinicians, 56, serves a population of more than 1 million in Montserrado County, where the capital, Monrovia, is located.

Outside Montserrado, the average number of mental health clinicians per county is seven. Remote counties like Sinoe, Grand Gedeh, Lofa, River Gee and Grand Kru all boast of mental health clinicians leading and shaping mental health services.

The Carter Center's Mental Health Program in Liberia is supported by contributions from individuals, governments, corporations, and foundations such as the UBS Optimus Foundation and the John P. Hussmann Foundation.

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