Janice Cooper on how Ebola affects mental health

Voices from the field

When Ebola broke out in Liberia in 2014, people needed more than only healthcare: they also needed mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS). Janice Cooper, a native Liberian and health services researcher, was one of those in charge of the efforts in this field.

Janice has built extensive experience in working with Ebola survivors and their families. One of the issues people have to grapple with is stigma. ‘There is a lot of stigma attached to Ebola. This prevents people from rebuilding their lives and participating fully in society. So it’s important to tackle this problem. But psychosocial care is also taboo. To a great extent, that’s down to ignorance. We train people, engage in dialogue and help people to tell their stories. This helps counteract the stigma. When people feel understood, they are better able to cope with the situation.’

‘Lack of trust also plays a major role. The level of mutual distrust was already high due to the years of civil war in Liberia. The disease has made people afraid of their own neighbours again. Social cohesion has broken down and it will take a great deal of effort to restore it. Social workers who are active in the community can make a difference.’

Janice is the Carter Center Liberia’s adviser on Global Mental Health, supporting programme development and implementation in the country. At the International Conference on MHPSS in Crisis Situations, 7-8 October in Amsterdam, she co-chaired a working group. She explains why the topic is so important for those affected in an interview she gave during the event.