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Journalists Commit to Reducing Stigma against People with mental Illness

Over 30 Liberian journalists have committed themselves to robustly report on mental health issues in Liberia. They made the pledge during the adoption of their by-laws and constitution of a newly form reporting network. The first national convention was held in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, where the election of the first leadership of Mental Health Reporters Network (NHRN) also took place.

Members of the MHRN vowed to increase covering and reporting about mental health issues and people living with mental illness in Liberia. Several speakers lamented looming challenges of stigma and discrimination against people with mental illnesses.

Dr. Janice Cooper, Programme Lead of USAID sponsored Carter Center Mental Health program, encouraged members of the network to improve reporting that will help reduce stigma against people living with mental illness. She outlined the varieties of challenges affecting mentally ill people and stressed that reporters should address different types of stigma during their reporting. The Carter Center Mental Health Program Lead also lamented the low budgetary support from government to support the mental health sector in the country.

The first elected National Coordinator of MHRN encouraged members to dedicate their reportage to mental health in other to help reduce stigma associated with the illness. Orlind Cooper said the network will increase the public understanding about mental health issues and the lives of people living with mental illness.

“Journalists that are members of this network will be trained into reporting mental health issues, taking ethics into consideration,” Cooper said. “We expect that these journalists flag the issues in the community so that people can raise these issues with their lawmakers to increase the mental health component of the national budget.”

He asserted that allotment for mental health in the national budget is as low as 0.4% while disclosing that key mental health drugs are out of supply across the country, “These drugs are needed to help people with mental illness to become stable and the more you treat people, the early treatment makes it better for them to recover,” the MHRN Coordinator stressed.

Several members of MHRN were excited and expressed committed to reporting on the sector while some underscored the significance of specialized reporting in modern journalism. “Forming a group that will specialize or will report on mental health issues is important,” said Precious Gaye of The Inquirer Newspaper after the adoption of network’s by-laws. “Mental health issues is very important for it to be integrated for a better health care system especially Liberia.” Wholquoi Yeahgar of LIB 24, a radio and Television station based in Monrovia described the network as a bridge that will connect journalists and allow them report extensively on mental health issues. “As reporters, we have to lay emphasis on mental health because if we don’t, how will the international Community come-in, how our government will know how people are being challenge mentally,” he said. He added that with this network, journalists are now aware of the crucial role they can play in reducing the problems associated with mental illness in the country.

Some other members hailed the Carter Center Mental Health program for the support and said the networking amongst reporters will cast a spotlight on reporting health issues, unlike politics. “I think the issues of reporting mental health issue will also be able to help those who are ill, for them to know that they have some importance in the society,” asserted Edmond Boakai of Radio Gbehzon in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County.

“The issue of mental health reporting is a new phenomenal in Liberia…, mental health has not been a focus point for reporting but with Carter Center trainings I think we have lot to do as media practitioners especially stopping stigma and discrimination with people with mental illness,” Explained Emmanuel Degleh, a journalist working in Margibi County.

Carter Center has conducted five mental health training workshops for Liberian journalists in Liberia to enhance anti stigma reporting and information. And with the emergence of the MHRN, reporters and Carter Center are hopeful that factual information about mental illness will improve the situation of people living with mental illness in the country.

Editor’s Note: This article was written by Alpha Daffae Senkpeni and was previously published in the FrontPage Africa Newspaper and online Edition. Senkpeni is a broadcast and print jourbnalist who has written several health and develoment stories about Liberia

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