The African Mental Health Consortium, AMHEC organised a mental health reform campaign, which was held virtually on Zoom on Friday the 26th of February 2021.
The one-day webinar was organised by the African Mental Health Consortium, AMHEC and was powered by MHEI and other mental health Non-governmental Organisation and Civil Society Organisations, and professional advocates in Africa.
The event was graced by different experts from across Africa including Angie Tarr from Liberia, Wanja Phyllis an artist from Kenya, Dr Hughes Izuchukuwu a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist practising in the United Kingdom and many more.
The webinar was facilitated and hosted by Ameh Abba Zion the founder of Mandate Health Empowerment Initiative (MHEI) and the convener of African Health Reforms. MHEI is a non-governmental and non-profit organisation whose vision is centred on providing mental health promotion, care, and psychological support to people through awareness, counselling, and early intervention in communities.
The major aim of the webinar is to unveil a community project designed to address mental health education at the grassroots and other issues of mental health reform in Africa.
According to the World Health Organisation, 1 out of 4 people in Africa has mental health issues.
According to Dr Hughes, a psychotherapist and the keynote speaker, “The lack of financial stability, poor infrastructure, economic hardship, unstable education system, poor political system, which are all common among African countries causes heightened fear, anger, and panic behaviour. And these are recognised as symptoms of mental health issues and behaviour.”
He further said: “The outbreak of COVID-19 further complicated the issues. As media houses report an increase in the number of people who contracted the virus and death cases, there was an increase in fear, depression and anxiety. These are clear manifestations of the traumatic imagination of people, and such behaviours are defined as the Columbia System. The Columbia System is patterns of behaviour or thoughts people have or show as a result of a health condition.”
He advised that mental health first aid training be given to the grassroot and primary personnel such as the police and nurses as they interface with the public faster.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, according to the speaker, is a better technique that can be adopted for mental first aid training since it reduces the influence of negative thoughts which can affect the feelings of people. The approach, he said, can reduce the impact of COVID-19 on the people and would drastically reduce its impact in Africa especially.
Another approach to addressing mental health, as identified in the webinar, is art. According to Wanja Phyllis, an artist from Nairobi Kenya: “Art is everything. Art is powerful. It says what you can’t say in words and touches the heart of many. A lot of people avoid discussion about their mental health to avoid being stigmatised, but art embraces stigma and is also educative.”
The advocacy of mental health is important in society and experts at the event agreed that no form of stability can be achieved without mental health. Dr Rasheed, referencing the World Health Organisation, stated that there is no health without mental health and called on African governments to do more on addressing the issues of mental health reforms.
“Our government needs to improve mental health reforms, mental health investment and ensure its integration into the primary health care centres at the grass root. There is also a need for mental health reform to be established as everyone needs to be carried along, starting from the head of state, the clergies, armed forces, medical practitioners, and so on. There should also be a mental health tour globally.”
“A reform will not happen without pressure,” says Professor Oye Gureje one of the keynote speakers.
The facilitator of the event, Abba Zion, also added that the webinar is a call for assistance from the African Government because African is greatly affected by mental health issues.
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