Friday February 22, 2019

Sierra Leone Grapples with Mental Health Impact of Ebola

Mental health is a much wider problem in Sierra Leone. An estimated 240,000 people in the country suffer from depression.

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Health workers carry the body of a suspected Ebola victim for burial at a cemetery in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Dec. 21, 2014.

With the recent Ebola crisis, officials in Sierra Leone have seen a rise in mental health concerns. Mustapha Kallon’s problems are typical. He survived Ebola but lost many family members during the epidemic.

“Whenever I think of my parents, I feel depressed,” he said.

Kallon said he turned to alcohol to cope with his grief. He was still receiving care in the Ebola treatment unit when his parents died from the virus. He didn’t get to say goodbye and doesn’t even know where they are buried.

Ebola survivor Mustapha Kallon says that "when I am among my colleague survivors, we explain to ourselves what we go through, and that helps us to forget about the past and face the future," April 6, 2017 (N. DeVries/VOA)
Ebola survivor Mustapha Kallon says that “when I am among my colleague survivors, we explain to ourselves what we go through, and that helps us to forget about the past and face the future,” April 6, 2017 (N. DeVries/VOA)

Sometimes Kallon goes with fellow Ebola survivors when they visit the graves of their loved ones.

‘I always cry’

“I feel like dying … I always cry when I am there,” he said. “I always feel pity, because I can’t find their graves.”

The corpses of people infected with Ebola can be very contagious. During the epidemic, burying the dead quickly and safely was so important to stopping transmission that proper records were not kept and some graves were left unmarked.

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From 2014 to 2016, the regional Ebola epidemic killed just over 11,000 people. Nearly all of them were in West Africa, with about 4,000 in Sierra Leone.

Mustapha Kallon stands with fellow survivor Brima Bockarie in Freetown, Sierra Leone, April 6, 2017. Kallon said that had he not reached out to others, he might not have been able to get through his depression. (N. DeVries/VOA)
Mustapha Kallon stands with fellow survivor Brima Bockarie in Freetown, Sierra Leone, April 6, 2017. Kallon said that had he not reached out to others, he might not have been able to get through his depression. (N. DeVries/VOA)

Those who survived the virus have faced stigma. Kallon was shunned by his community. It was only through support from the Sierra Leone Association of Ebola Survivors that he started to heal.

“When I am among my colleague survivors, we explain to ourselves what we go through, and that helps us to forget about the past and face the future,” he said.

Many of the Ebola survivors in Sierra Leone are going through similar struggles, said Dr. Stephen Sevalie, one of the country’s only psychiatrists.

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“Our data has not been analyzed yet, but I can tell you that mental health symptoms are quite high among Ebola survivors,” he said.

Scientists are studying a host of symptoms now known collectively as the post-Ebola syndrome. Symptoms include loss of eyesight, joint pain, and fatigue, as well as mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

Mental health, however, is a much wider problem in Sierra Leone. An estimated 240,000 people in the country suffer from depression.

Help within communities

Florence Baingana, who heads the mental health team with the World Health Organization in Sierra Leone, said that as a result of the Ebola epidemic, the Ministry of Health, with the support of the WHO, has trained 60 community health officers.

“So we are trying to get services down to as many people as possible,” she said. “We are training health workers in psychological first aid so they can recognize and do some listening and be helping.”

Dr. Stephen Sevalie, one of Sierra Leone's only psychiatrists, says mental health problems "are quite high among Ebola survivors." He's pictured at a military hospital Freetown, April 6, 2017. (N. DeVries/VOA)
Dr. Stephen Sevalie, one of Sierra Leone’s only psychiatrists, says mental health problems “are quite high among Ebola survivors.” He’s pictured at a military hospital Freetown

Baingana added that it’s not just Ebola survivors who have been suffering from the epidemic. Health care workers, burial workers and others involved in response efforts have also reported mental health concerns.

Nadia Nana Yilla, who volunteered in communities to help raise awareness about Ebola, said hearing people’s painful stories took a toll at times.

“I cried endlessly,” she said. “For me, that’s my way of dealing with depression. I just isolate and seclude and cry it out … so sometimes if you cry, it really helps. If you can’t cry it out, you have to find someone to talk to.”

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And that is the message on this World Health Day, April 7: People need to talk to someone if they are feeling depressed.

Kallon said that had he not reached out to others, he might not have been able to get through his depression. And although it’s still hard at times, having that support around him helps, he said. VOA

Next Story

People Around You Influence Your Body Image

Body dissatisfaction is ubiquitous and can take a huge toll on our mood, self-esteem, relationships and even the activities we pursue. 

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People Around You Influence Your Body Image . Pixabay

Are you surrounded by people who are not that body conscious? Then there is good news for you as a new study suggests spending time with people who are not preoccupied with their bodies can improve your own eating habits and body image.

In this study, examining how social interactions influence body image, researchers found that in addition to the previous findings that being around people preoccupied with their body image was detrimental, spending time with people who were non-body focused had a positive impact.

Non-body focused people are those who are not preoccupied with their body weight or shape or appearance.

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Youth who resembled one another were more likely to remain friends from one year to the next. Pixabay

“Our research suggests that social context has a meaningful impact on how we feel about our bodies in general and on a given day. Specifically, when others around us are not focused on their body it can be helpful to our own body image,” said Kathryn Miller, postdoctoral student at the University of Waterloo in Canada.

For the study, the team involved nearly 100 female undergraduate students aged 17 to 25.

They measured the participants’ frequency of daily interactions with body focused and non-body focused people, their degree of body appreciation (how much one values their body regardless of its size or shape), and body satisfaction, and whether they ate intuitively in alignment with their hunger and cravings rather than fixating on their dietary and weight goals.

The findings, published in the journal Body Image, showed that body dissatisfaction is ubiquitous and can take a huge toll on our mood, self-esteem, relationships and even the activities we pursue.

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If more women try to focus less on their weight or shape, there may be a ripple effect shifting societal norms for women’s body image in a positive direction . Pixabay

“It’s important to realise that the people we spend time with actually influence our body image. If we are able to spend more time with people who are not preoccupied with their bodies, we can actually feel much better about our own bodies,” said Allison Kelly, Professor at the varsity.

Also Read: Here are Some Food Tips That Can Change Your Hair Health

In addition, they also found that spending more time with non-body focused individuals may be advantageous in protecting against disordered eating and promoting more intuitive eating.

“If more women try to focus less on their weight or shape, there may be a ripple effect shifting societal norms for women’s body image in a positive direction. It’s also important for women to know that they have an opportunity to positively impact those around them through how they relate to their own bodies,” Miller suggested. (IANS)