Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What do Gecko Band Aids Have to do with Mental Health Care, Child Soldiers and the Third World?

Just as two beings must intertwine in order to produce another complete being, physical and mental health must intertwine in order to produce a healthy state of wellbeing. The exclusion of one type of health care - physical or mental - is detrimental to type of care.

Although, it may be true physical health issues are usually more urgent and life threatening, the overall health of the individual cannot be maintained without both. Poor mental health can affect everything in society from the labor force, economic infrastructure and crime rate to the quality of life and interpersonal relationships.

Good health care of any kind is expensive and hard to obtain among the poor all around the globe. In the United States, with almost half of our population uninsured or under-insured, health care, although conducive to pleasure and comfort, is obviously considered by many as inessential. And as for mental health care? Even less essential as mental health parity has a long way to go. Federal law still allows insurers to discriminate between physical and mental illness by allowing them to set higher co-payments and/or stricter limits on mental health benefits.

Bearing in mind the richest country in the world, "US", is just starting to emerge from the dark ages regarding mental health, it is "reasonable" to assume mental health care is non-existent in the third world. The West African country of Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world, has one psychiatrist per five million; yes, mental health care is, for all practical purposes, non-existent in third world countries.

Back to the third world countries. Nearly eighty percent of all fighters in Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war were aged seven to fourteen. These children were kidnapped, forced into the fighting and made to perpetuate the worst atrocities imaginable. They were typically provided with mind-altering drugs. Some were forced to snort a mixture of cocaine and gun powder to lower inhibitions against violent behavior and firearms in order to carry out the mission of their soulless leaders.

In Uganda, Lord’s Resistance Army (L.R.A.) rebel leader Joseph Kony kept child soldiers in line by forcing cannibalism on them, forcing them to kill each other, kill the weakest in the group, using them as mine detectors and amputating limbs.

Many of these children were forced to go back into their villages to amputate the limbs of family members so that they would not be allowed back into their family, to ensure they would remain outcasts.

"The rebels told me to join them, but I said no, then they killed my smaller brother. I changed my mind." a child soldier quoted in Peter Singer's book Children at War
How can a country begin to rebuild with so many of its citizens shaped and socialized in what can only be called, Hell? A brutal environment, completely devoid of humanity, where young, innocent, obedient, trustful, beings with limited understanding, easily indoctrinated, play both the role of perpetrator and victim.
When I was child. I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. --1. Cor. xii. 11.
What do these children do when they become "men"? What kind of mental health care could possibly erase the deeply embedded scars "permanently" etched on the soul and psyche of each one? The task seems insurmountable, like using a box of "Dora the Explorer" or "Sponge Bob" band aids to close a person up after open heart surgery.

Currently, the one psychiatrist administering to five-million people and the few people that are given one day of mental health training are equivalent to applying the "Dora the Explorer" band aids in surgery or to cover a bullet hole, in other words, totally useless. However, upgrading from "Dora the Explorer" to let's say, Gecko ultra sticky "internal band-aids" with glue that coats the underlying structure designed to stick to living tissue might just be doable.

Dr. Suzan Song is a psychiatrist working with the Harvard School of Public Health to deliver mental health care to these adolescents in Sierra Leone.


Anonymous,  00:45  

I don't know how any type of mental health care could help these poor children. It's a shame to say but it's almost a waste.

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