Politics is the most important conversation in Liberia, with so many young people interested in the news. The reason and aftermath aren’t so great, however. Politics can come with so many negative actions and thoughts, particularly surrounding the people who are not afraid to go to the extreme for a chance at power. Though we have the freedom of speech in Liberia, people are not given the opportunity to have free, decent, civilized, and constructive conversations without receiving insults or physical attacks in return.
People are afraid and worry and trouble for their security whenever an election is around. Poverty is on the rise on a daily basis without the Government or people in the opposition providing the way forward in changing the lives of millions of people. Most people in Liberia want to see some sort of change in their lifetimes, for their lives or at least the lives of their children and their community. All of this eventually trickles down to concerns that deeply affect our mental health.
In fact, recent tragedies have forced Liberians between a rock and a hard place. Less than 1% of Liberians have access to appropriate mental health services. In 2014-2015, Liberia and its regional neighbors, Sierra Leone and Guinea, struggled to contain the largest epidemic outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in known human history. As recently as 26 May 2016, there were 28,616 reported cases of Ebola with an estimate of 11,310 fatalities. The tragic toll of the Ebola outbreak has weakened many of Liberia’s post-conflict reconstruction gains in health and economic development, achieved since the end of the Liberian war in 2003.
Liberia is centrally administered by a national government based in the coastal capital, Monrovia. At the local level, Liberia is divided into fifteen counties. Each county is administered by a superintendent appointed by the president and is further divided into districts, chiefdoms, and clans. The basic unit of local government is the town chief or committee of elders. This system of “native” administration keeps much of the older system of indirect rule, which lets local chiefs collect taxes and judge minor cases. This makes federal level change difficult to implement and track, particularly when it comes to the distribution of and access to healthcare. Most of those serving in these different areas take Mental Health to be less important and not necessary. Many of them are corrupt, and a few fought in the fourteen years of Civil War. Their leadership is leading us towards an increase in Poverty, with which government inefficiency has impacted every aspect of life, leading to teen prostitution, teen pregnancy, lack of access to better education, and insufficient levels of other basic needs for the people of Liberia.
Politics can be a very good thing, and I believe democracy is extraordinary especially when everyone can freely express themselves and the ordinary people get to decide their leaders. But right now, it is failing people in Liberia and causing issues that affect their lives and, therefore, mental health.
When the government cannot and will never do it all, let’s do what we can to take care of our own mental health when possible, and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. Start with where you are and what you have. I know it can be a lot. But I know us, and I know we are strong.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Reuben Reeves is the Founder and President of the Letters to Strangers+Liberia Chapter, headquartered in Monrovia, where the Letters to Strangers Mental Health Resource Center is currently accepting appointments.