Mental illness is a huge problem in our country, but it is something which our leaders – political and community – society and even some families did not pay great attention to. It’s a subject that is not fully understood. Mental illness affects our thinking, behavior or mood. This young man’s [Ebrima Ceesay who went missing since last year] case is an indication that our government had failed citizens in every aspect. Since our founding as a country, we do not have any institution where we have specialists who study and deal with such health problems, which is so prevalent in our society. Mr Ceesay has right to mental health care which can help him have better medications or therapeutic interventions so he lives normal life and be a productive citizen. Instead the government and society which should ensure that he is well taken care of by building good hospitals and train psychiatrists, nurses or psychologists are not taking mental illness seriously or they are too ignorant of the importance of such care which are available in many societies across the world. Today, if you go to Serekunda market and major towns, you will see countless people like Mr. Ceesay who are laughed at, mocked and kicked out by their fellow citizens. The same citizens refuse to remind themselves that mental health problems can affect any one or family. Therefore, we should look at any individual with mental illness as one of our own and avoid negative stereotypes. We have to emphathise and care for them.
I commend Mr. Ceesay’s family for their compassion, love and care for their brother. To be honest, I have never heard of monetary reward being published in any Gambian newspaper about a missing loved one with mental illness. I think Ceesay’s family has set good precedence for all Gambians to emulate. This is what we need as a country. Politically, we need the same kind of effort to enlighten and care for our people who are currently living under military dictatorship.
The Gambia needs cultural transformation so that society understands mental illness and stop blaming it on the “Devil”. Despite the fact that Jammeh’s regime claims to have built a university, I have not heard or seen a single graduate who specializes in psychiatry, psychology or any course which deals with mental health problems. There should have mental health specialist programs such as psychiatric nursing in the school of nursing or psychiatric – Mental Health Nurse practitioners as advance degree program for Gambians to venture into this area.
It is sad that majority of educated Gambians do not recognise this area as important because they don’t see any immediate benefits in the form of stealing or kickbacks as it is the case in the banking and finance sectors. Gambians in general do not normally venture into programs that deal with social problems. Social problems are responsible for our political problems because the politicians or leaders come from the society. Mental illness is indeed health and social problem because it affects individual and family welling in the form of emotional stress, anxiety and burden of family care giving. Therefore, social advocacy groups should be established and supported by the government and private sector to deal with such social problems. A strong and compassionate society is the one that cares about its most unfortunate, sick and poor citizens. It is also a society that ensure empathy, love and fair treatment becomes integral part of its societal values. This is what we need as a country for us to have true democracy, respect for human rights (including right to Mental health care) and rule of law.