Feelings of fear, panic, stress, shame and isolation are becoming increasingly common amongst people in Sierra Leone as the country faces the risk of a growing mental health crisis, caused by the Ebola outbreak, warn International Medical Corps UK.
An assessment report released 8 January 2015, based on a series of interviews, focus groups and surveys around the town of Lunsar in Port Loko District in Sierra Leone, reveals the mental health impact of the ongoing Ebola crisis. The most frequently cited problems faced by those interviewed were the lack of hospitals, lack of education and lack of jobs. These challenges are causing widespread psychological distress for people of all ages across Sierra Leone, including fear, boredom, and feelings of isolation and separation.
Georgina Grundy Campbell, International Medical Corps Psychological Coordinator and lead author of the report commented, "Many of the issues that people reported are normal reactions to distressing events and many people will be able to recover with time, however with reduced access to support systems and normal coping strategies in the communities there is an increased risk that some people will develop mental health problems. The present mental health system in Sierra Leone is not equipped to deal with large numbers of people seeking mental health support."
Ebola survivors face a unique set of mental health risks which include fear of how to interact with other people once they have returned to their communities; anger at the lack of support they received; and feelings of grief as many survivors have lost family members who died of Ebola.
The report contains a number of recommendations to address the potential mental health consequences of the Ebola outbreak, including the need to provide regular and accurate information about Ebola to affected communities; promoting community participation and engagement in the Ebola response; and supporting the reintegration of Ebola survivors into their communities.
Kevin Noone, Executive Director, International Medical Corps UK, added, "The long term effects of the Ebola crisis in West Africa are only just becoming apparent. The closure of hospitals, schools and businesses are all having an impact on communities and the mental health consequences need to be addressed now, to prevent another crisis months down the line."
International Medical Corps have teams of mental health and psychosocial support specialists based at their two Ebola Treatment Centres (ETCs) in Makeni and Lunsar, Sierra Leone. These experts work with Ebola survivors, families of those infected and local communities to mitigate the mental health impact of the crisis. To date, the International Medical Corps ETCs in Sierra Leone have admitted 141 patients, with 49 deaths from Ebola virus at the facilities. 18 patients have recovered and been discharged.