Welcome Back: A documentary about living in Liberia with mental illness and epilepsy

Stills from the documentary Welcome back

Liberia 2019 © MSF

In Liberia, people living with mental illness or epilepsy face a dire lack of knowledge about the diseases, as well as resources for care. Many are stigmatized, and when spiritual interventions or traditional medicine don’t work, people can be rejected from family and society. “Imagine someone is coming down with mental condition in a family that has not heard about mental conditions before,” says Abraham Kollie, a psychosocial community worker for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). “Can you imagine that? They will go straight to seek solutions elsewhere and not even think about coming to the clinic."

Although epilepsy is classified as a neurological, rather than a mental health disorder, the two are treated within the same program in Liberia. “In our community and in Liberia, a lot of our people, even educated people, back the belief that epilepsy is contagious and that it can be transferred from one person to another,” says Kollie. “So we have a lot of work to do.”

In the last 30 years, Liberians have endured two civil wars and an Ebola epidemic that claimed thousands of lives in the region, including a disproportionate number of health workers. Like many low-resource countries, Liberia has limited services for people with mental health disorders, with one psychiatric hospital and only two psychiatrists. However, the Ministry of Health has worked with MSF and other organizations to improve its strategy for delivering mental health care at the community level.

Since this documentary was made, COVID-19 has caused some setbacks to this progress, socially isolating patients and disrupting treatment in some cases. MSF staff have had to start working differently to reach the most vulnerable patients and get them back on track. This film introduces viewers to patients dealing with epilepsy and mental health conditions who are fighting to get their normal lives back.