Sierra Leone News: Rights Group Urges Govt to Protect People with Mental Illness

By Stephen V. Lansana & George M.O Williams

As the worldcelebrate Mental Health Day today, Legal Link, a Christian Lawyers Centre that defends the rights of vulnerable groups in Sierra Leone, has urged the government to develop robust policy that will protect persons suffering from mental health disorder.

This year’s Mental Health Day (October 10, 2019) is commemorated with the global theme: “Focus on Suicide Prevention”. It is globally estimated that every 40 seconds, someone loses their life to suicide. The global statistics indicates that suicide is in the increase. But Sierra Leone does not have any data to show the statistics of people with mentally illness that commit suicide. Also, the country lacks data on the number of mentally ill patients. In addition, the Lunacy Act of 1902 is archaic and there is no policy on mental health that protects those suffering from mental disorder.

Recently, a person suffering from mental health disorder [Blacka] was brutally attacked. The video clips and recordings of Blacka is circulating on social media showcasing wounding and grievous bodily harm inflicted on his person.

The Executive Director of LEGAL LINK, Rashid Dumbuya Esq said in a statement that there are no adequate, effective and robust laws, policies and institutions in the country to protect the rights and welfare of mentally ill patients like BLACKA.

Referencing a locus classicus case of ‘PUROHIT VS THE GAMBIA’, a matter that was decided by the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights concerning the

inhumane treatment of mentally ill patients in the Gambia, Legal Link stated that the African Commission ruled that “the Gambian government has violated the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights by her refusal and failure to have effective laws, policies and institutions in place to protect the rights and welfare of mentally — ill patients in the country.”

Legal Link said that the significance of the above case at the African continent has revealed that states in Africa are under a duty to ensure that the rights and welfare of mentally retarded persons are adequately addressed either through legislations and or care institutions and not neglected at will.

Executive Director of LEGAL LINK, Rashid Dumbuya Esq. said, “Unfortunately, in Sierra Leone, apart from the acute absence of a legislation that specifically protects the rights of mentally ill patients in the country, there are still a large number of mental health victims roaming the streets of Freetown aimlessly, unattended to and uncared for.”

“Mental health legislation, policies and institutions are necessary for protecting the rights of people with mental disorders, who are a vulnerable section of society. Apart from the threats to their life, they face stigma, discrimination and marginalization all the time and this increases the likelihood for their human rights to be violated.”

Legal Link emphasized that Mental health legislation is needed in Sierra Leone so as to provide a legal framework for addressing critical issues such as community integration of persons with mental disorders, the provision of medical care of high quality, the improvement of access to care services, the protection of civil rights and the protection and promotion of rights in other critical areas such as housing, education and employment, adding that Legislation can also play an important role in promoting mental health and preventing mental disorders.

Dumbuya Esq. urged the Sierra Leone Police to conduct robust criminal investigation into the aggravated assault occasioned against BLACKA and bring the perpetrators of this callous act on a mentally ill patient to justice as quickly as possible, urging that BLACKA be seen as a victim deserving of help rather than a stooge to be used and exploited at will.

Legal Link called on government through the Ministry of Health to provide the highest attainable standard of medical treatment to BLACKA including confinement and rehabilitation as he goes through this perilous time of his life.

The executives director urged Sierra Leone Parliament to pass a law that will specifically and effectively protect the rights of mentally ill persons in the country, adding that it is only by taking the above interim measures that the effects of the BLACKA situation can be mitigated before the International community.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Ministry of Health, Dr.Donald A.Bash-Taqi said that mental illness thrives as a result of depression, alcohol or drugs abuse, chronic pain or illness, experienced in war, violence, trauma abuse or discrimination and severe emotional distress. He said that one out of four Sierra Leonean is suffering from mental health.

He added that by the end of 2020 a committee will be set to review and foster repeal of the 1902 mental act.

Director of Non-Communicable Disease at the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, Dr. Santigie Sesay said, “We are encouraging you to take ’40 seconds of action’ to help improve awareness of the significance of suicide as a global public health problem, improve knowledge of what can be done to prevents suicides, reduce stigma associated with suicide and let people who are struggling know that they are no alone.”