AYV News May 18, 2023
Honourable Vice President, Dr. Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh has assured that mental health issue can no longer be dismissed in Sierra Leone. He made this assurance whiles launching the Presidential Task Force on Mental Health in Freetown.
He said mental health issue can no longer be dismissed, particularly giving its overall impact on individual, family members and communities.
Vice President Jalloh said the New Direction Government has prioritised mental health issue more than before, furthering that the President Julius Maada Bio’s Administration believes in putting together resources to provide the necessary care needed to address mental health.
Dr Jalloh expressed government’s commitment to guarantee the right of every citizen, especially persons living with mental illness. He lauded Partners in Health for their investment in the Sierra Leone Psychiatric Teaching Hospital which has transformed the quality of care for patients through the effort of the Health Ministry.
The Minister of Health and Sanitation, Dr. Austin Demby quoting the World Health Organisation defines mental health “as a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”.
Minister Demby reiterated that government cannot prioritized mental health without multi-sectoral action at the highest level, noting that it is not just about closing the treatment gap in facilities; it is about integrated multi-sectoral action across Government.
The Africa Center for Disease Control Head of Division in charge of Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Mohamed Abdul Aziz stated that over 50% of Africa countries lacked mental health legislation or have outdated legislation that fails to adequately promote the rights of person with mental disabilities.
The Task Force include ministers of government chaired by the vice president, presidential mental adviser, and the Office of National Security representative.
Young people in post-conflict and post-epidemic contexts such as Sierra Leone face a range of mental health challenges as part of their daily life.
Armed conflict such as civil war has been associated, both directly and indirectly, with negative mental health among children and young people.
The intergenerational nature of conflict-induced negative mental health means it lasts long after conflicts have officially ended and in fact spreads within family dynamics.
This means young people who took no active part in historical conflicts are still experiencing associated negative mental health. Between 1991 and 2002, the West African country of Sierra Leone experienced devastating civil war, defined by widespread human rights abuses and collapsing infrastructure. During this conflict, nearly 7000 children are believed to have been recruited as child soldiers.
The country also experienced an Ebola epidemic between 2014 and 2016 that killed nearly 4000 people, with a compounding negative impact on mental health.
Priority areas for improving youth mental health in Sierra Leone have previously been identified as improving positive peer support, delivering effective coping/self-regulation skills and knowledge, and providing alternatives to risky behaviors.
The Messeh Leone Trust (https://www.messehleone.org/ through the Sierra Leone Wave Alliance recently brought together a collection of youth and community development organizations in Sierra Leone to pilot surf therapy within Sierra Leone and specifically address these priority areas.
Surf therapy in Sierra Leone is an example of Sport for Development (SfD), with an explicit focus on mental health and well-being. There remains a lack of rigorous evidence pertaining to the efficacy of SfD, including SfD’s effectiveness in supporting positive mental health in post-conflict contexts.
Despite the lack of rigorous evidence around SfD in supporting post-conflict youth mental health, promising results can be seen within organizational evaluations and other non-peer reviewed materials.
A recent review of the evidence on the effectiveness of surf therapy, including supporting youth mental health, was encouraging but was hampered by a lack of rigor, especially in terms of control groups and sample sizes.
No research has been carried out into the effectiveness or associated impact of surf therapy for youth mental health within post-conflict settings.
Further research is required to determine the effectiveness and associated impact claims, both for surf therapy and within the wider SfD paradigm, especially around youth mental health.
The only research that has currently been carried out on surf therapy within the post-conflict context explored initial program theory in the Waves for Change (W4C) intervention in neighboring Liberia.
This study highlighted the creation of a safe space, positive social support, effective transfer of coping skills, and respite from negative emotions while in the water, as integral to the intervention achieving its associated outcomes.
These elements of the intervention align with previously mentioned priority areas for youth mental health in Sierra Leone. The findings also triangulate with studies exploring surf therapy for youth mental health in different contexts, especially around the importance of a safe space, social support, and respite.
The initial program theory expounded within the research carried out in Liberia provided the theoretical framework for the piloting of surf therapy in Sierra Leone.
The aim of this study was to provide a mixed methods evaluation of the associated impact of a range of surf therapy programs across Sierra Leone.
The report on mental health and surf therapy can be accessed here: https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/18/12/6267