New funding for intervention work in Sierra Leone

Posted on 4 September 2013

International Centre for Mental Health Social Research (ICMHSR) work in Sierra Leone has received a boost with news that the Maudsley Charity will be supporting the next phase.

Funded by the Wellcome Trust and the University of York via the Centre for Chronic Diseases and Disorders (C2D2), ICMHSR researcher Meredith Newlin and Dr Susie Whitwell from King’s Centre for Global Health visited Sierra Leone in July to explore how social interventions can help to meet the needs of people with mental health problems. During their visit, Meredith and Susie conducted interviews, focus groups and observations in a variety of mental health service settings and with a number of key stakeholders in the three largest cities, Freetown, Makeni, and Bo.

Like many post-conflict societies, Sierra Leone lacks capacity in its health and social care workforce. Where an estimated 13 per cent of the adult population suffers from a mental disorder and there exists only one trained psychiatrist for a population over 4 million, the lack of mental health training and supervision represents a significant barrier to addressing mental health needs.

Although training has begun for 21 psychiatric nurses, focus has been placed on the medical model, which is problematic in a country with poor access to medications. Upon graduating this autumn, the nurses will be based in district hospitals across the country with referral pathways reaching into the rural communities. Training in psychosocial approaches is greatly needed both at district and community levels in order to strengthen the care available to adults with mental health problems.

Meredith and Susie joined the psychiatric nurses for three days of training where they discussed principles of social capital and strategies they currently use to build relationships with patients, and spent time reviewing difficult cases.

“Feedback from stakeholders on the adaptation of the Connecting People intervention model was positive,” said Meredith. “They highlighted specific elements of social capital within their context such as building of trusting relationships between the health worker and service user; deepening connections in the community, particularly with family members; enhancing public awareness of mental health thereby minimising stigma; and traditional beliefs of mental illness impacting perceptions of recovery”

Funding from the Maudsley Charity will enable us to continue collaborating with stakeholders in Sierra Leone to adapt the intervention model and enhance the psychosocial skills of mental health workers through a training programme to be piloted in 2014.

Back in the UK, C2D2 are funding the creation of a short film about this project which will be premiered at our next ICMHSR seminar on 26th September when Meredith will talk about her recent trip to Sierra Leone. More information about this free seminar can be found on our events page.