Eighteen clinicians specializing in child and adolescent mental health today at the Deana Kay Isaacson School of Midwifery in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County in southeastern Liberia.

The class training was developed by The Carter Center’s Mental Health Program in partnership with the Liberia Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection.

These graduates, the sixth cohort of clinicians focused on children and youth from the partnership, will provide mental health and psycho-social care in schools, clinics and other child and youth-centered settings.

“Liberia is making a brighter future for all of its citizens by investing in the mental health of adults, children, and adolescents,” said former U.S. First Lady and Carter Center co-founder Rosalynn Carter.

These graduates are trained through a collaboration between The Carter Center Mental Health Program in Liberia and the Liberian government to improve access to mental health services. The clinicians work in primary care facilities, hospitals and other settings children frequent, like daycare and schools, across all 15 counties to provide much needed care as the country seeks to strengthen its mental health services. This group of Liberian nurses, physician assistants, and registered midwives completed a Carter Center-supported six-month, Child and Adolescent Post-Basic Mental Health Training Program at the Deana Kay Isaacson School of Midwifery.

Liberia is on course to reach its goal of expanding access to mental health care to 70 percent of the population within the next few years. Previously, this nation with a current population of 4.6 million had one psychiatrist to meet the needs of at least 300,000 Liberians suffering from mental illnesses.

All graduates of The Carter Center and Ministry of Health program passed a credentialing exam earlier this month administered by the Liberian Board of Nursing and Midwifery and the Liberia Physician Assistants Association to practice as licensed mental health clinicians. This allows them to return to their counties or facilities of practice as child and adolescent mental health specialists and to practice in primary care settings that focus on children and adolescents, or to begin working in school-based clinics. Graduates of this program have been critical to Liberia’s post-Ebola and post-war recovery.

Since 2010, mental health clinicians trained by The Carter Center program have made a lasting impact in their communities by establishing new services. Clinicians have opened 14 clinical practices in prison systems, trained nurse midwives to screen for maternal depression, trained teachers in social and emotional development and mental health, supported the nation’s first mental health consumer organization, worked in Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs), and provided psycho-social supports to individuals and families affected mental illnesses. This new cohort of child and adolescent mental health clinicians is assisting in these efforts by providing specialized care to Liberian youth. Over 20 schools now have clinicians in their clinics or have regular visits by mental health clinicians.

“The name of this graduating class of clinicians – “Dea Zea Deh,” which means “transformation” – is an appropriate description of what’s happening across Liberia as a growing group of dedicated clinicians work hard to provide quality service and decrease the stigma surrounding mental health. “We are proud of these clinicians making healthier communities through their work to support children, adolescents and their families all over the country,” said S. Benedict Dossen, a native Liberian and country program lead for the Center’s mental health initiative in Liberia.

The Child and Adolescent Post-Basic Mental Health Training program is part of a three-year initiative to address the psychological effects of Liberia’s Ebola crisis and to promote psycho-social health in the country. The project is expected to reach approximately 19,000 beneficiaries in Montserrado (including Monrovia) and Margibi counties working through the county health teams.

In addition to promoting long-term health and resilience through the newly credentialed child and adolescent mental health clinicians, the project provides support to respond to the intermediate psycho-social impact of Ebola. The Carter Center, in collaboration with Liberian stakeholders, has trained first responders in self-care, facilitated Community Healing Dialogues for Ebola-affected families, and trained health and social workers to provide community-based mental health care and family psycho-education. These and other efforts through this project offer support and capacity-building for individuals and communities affected by Ebola.

The psychological impact of more than a decade of civil conflict, which ended in 2003, has contributed to a mental health crisis in Liberia that has been intensified by: misconceptions, stigma, and the resulting discrimination surrounding mental illnesses; lack of mental health care training for health professionals; and inadequate supplies of necessary medications.

While every Liberian county now has an average of 19 mental health clinicians, there remains a need to build up services in places with treatment gaps. The largest concentration of Carter Center-trained clinicians, 69, collaborate with clinicians trained by WHO-mhGAP techniques in 45 facilities to serve a population of more than 1 million in Montserrado County, where the capital, Monrovia, is located. The network of community health workers, specialists, and others means that the country is better equipped to recognize and address mental health issues in a variety of settings.

The Carter Center’s Mental Health Program in Liberia is supported by contributions from individuals, governments, corporations, and foundations.

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