Written by Akem Olives
Edited by Peter Tah
“Imagine a world where everyone can thrive especially the young, such an ideal world is one where everyone is mentally stable,” says American Psychiatrist, Adolf Meyer.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
This definition shows that mental health is a fundamental component in sustainable development. Consequently, October 10 every year is designated as World Mental Health Day to raise awareness on the need to prevent mental illnesses and provide balanced and holistic care to people who suffer from them [illnesses]. Key stakeholders in the provision of mental health care use the occasion to continue to chart the way forward in making the available services accessible to all whilst pressing for governments to put in place better policies that ease the work of mental health professionals.
As key partner and leading health care provider in Cameroon, the Cameroon Baptist Convention (CBC) Health Services has been paying great attention to mental illnesses. The organisation has set up mental health clinics in Banso Baptist Hospital (where the main clinic called the Family Care Centre is found), Mbingo Baptist Hospital, and Mboppi Baptist Hospital Douala. People can equally seek help with their mental disorders beyond the CBC Health Services, mainly at the Douala General Hospital, L’Hôpital Laquintinie de Douala, and L’Hôpital Jamot in Yaounde.
Some of the commonest mental illnesses in Cameroon include generalized anxiety disorders, specific anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, depression, dementia, and psychotic disorders.
World Mental Health Day 2018 took place against the backdrop of the sociopolitical crisis in the country’s Northwest and Southwest regions. Experts say the crisis has left far-reaching consequences on the mental health of people in these regions.
Within this context, the CBC Health Services, therefore, adopted “Sociopolitical crisis and stable mental health” as the call for action during the commemoration of World Mental Health Day 2018. During the event, the organisation assessed the progress made so far in the provision of quality mental health care to Cameroonians.
It has been revealed that since the inception of mental health services in Banso Baptist Hospital in 2015, over 1000 patients have been attended to by six psychiatric nurses and other staff of the CBC Health Services. With continuous capacity-building for the staff and awareness creation in the communities, it is hoped that the number of people who benefit from the services will greatly increase in the coming months and years.
Loveline (given name) is a caregiver to a patient in the Family Care Centre (FCC) ward at Banso Baptist Hospital who has been suffering from a mental illness for over 12 years. She says, “It’s been very challenging and not an easy ride given that he [the patient] doesn’t understand that he has a problem. When the crisis surfaces, we find it tough to manage but given that treatment is available, we only struggle to take him to the hospital.”
Like Loveline, many other families of persons suffering from mental illnesses face so many difficulties. It is financially demanding to take care of persons with mental issues and this is sometimes compounded by the wastage of valuable resources with tradi-practitioners and soothsayers who offer no real solutions.
Government spending on mental health is low in countries of the world particularly in developing countries. The WHO’s fact sheet states that 33% of countries allocate less than 1% of their total health budgets to mental health, with others spending just 1% of their budgets. This, indeed, further worsens the already gloomy situation of mental health worldwide.
The mental health domain in Cameroon suffers a series of challenges. Only a few specialized centers mostly in major cities like Douala and Yaounde have mental health specialists.
Nadege Anya, Psychiatric Nurse and Supervisor of the Mental Health Services of the CBC Health Services, says, “Little subsidies on drugs, lack of monitoring policy on mental health services and the non-inclusion of mental health in the country’s national budget are some of the ‘Berlin walls’ standing on the road to a well-structured mental health care in Cameroon.”
Despite the difficult mental health situation in the country, key stakeholders like the CBC Health Services continue to advocate for more robust health policies that will ensure quality care of persons with mental illnesses at all levels.
Anya Nadege regrets that absence of mental health staff in health districts and centers in rural areas cause patients to travel longer distances to access care, making the cost quite high given the additional cost of transport they have to incur. Moving forward, she says it will take the inclusion of mental health medication on the list of essential drugs in the country and the training of all medical staff on basic mental health care to stem the tide.