In a country still only eight years removed from a devastating 14–year civil war, Liberia’s treatment of people with mental illnesses is seen by most as a low priority next to poverty, HIV and creation of a functioning democracy.
But the nation’s “psychological scars,” are an imposing burden to the country’s development. According to a recent PBS feature, about 40 percent of the West African Nation’s four million people have post traumatic stress disorder.
The feature highlights the work of Dr. Janice Cooper, a native Liberian, who fled the country a decade ago and now works with the Atlanta-based Carter Center.
In 2010, the center, in a joint project with the Liberia Ministry’s of Health and Social Welfare, started a project to train 150 mental health workers to provide much-needed psychiatric assistance to people throughout the country, most of whom have never received any mental health treatment.
The project recently converted a building inside the Monrovia Central Prison into a mental health treatment center. Conditions are so rough at the prison that it has been singled out by Amnesty International for human rights abuse.
“A colleague of mine once told me, as I was ranting about my own story of having to flee, that everyone in Liberia has the same kind of story,” Cooper said in the report. “That realization and knowledge really fuels my desire to be here and work in this environment.”
PBS reporter Molly Raskin is working on a documentary on Liberia’s mental health program.