"Any country that neglects and pays little attention to mental health will struggle with development, because a population-wide positive mental attitude has a key role to play."
My name is Amjata Bayoh. I am a Community Health Advocate and freelance citizen reporter for the UK-based media group ‘On Our Radar’, and I have a special interest in mental health. I came across On Our Radar in 2012 when they were in Sierra Leone to train local journalists on how to professionally report on the elections scheduled for that year. Back then I wanted to enter university, and I saw the training offered by On Our Radar as a good opportunity to improve my skills. I was sceptical at first, because I had no interest in politics then, though eventually decided to attend. At the time, I was a volunteer serving in a communication role for a community based-NGO called West African Medical Missions.
Different modes of transport are required to reach communities far and wide
I have now also been a member of the Mental Health Coalition of Sierra Leone since 2013. It is a Coalition of several organizations and individuals who advocate for the right of mental health service users. This engagement has inspired me and helped to get involved in several Mental Health Advocacy and research projects, including the roll-out of the mental health distress tool for the NIHR-RUHF project in the last couple of years. Throughout my work so far, I have seen first-hand how people affected by mental health problems are stigmatised, and receive little support from the public and government.
I strongly believe that there is no health without mental health. Any country that neglects and pays little attention to mental health will struggle with development, because a population-wide positive mental attitude has a key role to play. At an individual level, we all have a responsibility to maintain a positive mental health attitude and look after the mental health of people around us. This serves as a catalyst for personal development and growth of those around us and ourselves. We all struggle with our mental health. It is therefore key that we pay attention to how we positively and harmlessly respond to improve the situation, as this can really make or break us.
After the elections, I stayed in touch with On Our Radar and began working on bringing to light under-reported issues from my community. I saw their media training as an inspiration to continue doing more, and to talk about the Sierra Leonean health system so people can see what the current situation is. I saw it as an opportunity to bring to life things I have a passion for. One of the first stories I worked on was about mental health, which was published on allAfrica and attracted a lot of attention and messages of thanks. This article titled “Nurses not curses - Witchcraft beliefs and Mental Health in Sierra Leone” brings to light how people in Sierra Leone view mental illness.
"We all struggle with our mental health. It is therefore key that we pay attention to how we positively and harmlessly respond to improve the situation."
Amjata's top tips for mental wellbeing
These are my four top tips to inspire myself and maintain a positive mental health:
1. Pray and support others- I pray and pour my heart to God and do good by supporting the people around me and those in need.
2. Find strength in sport- I’m an ardent fan of Everton Football club and football is my favourite sport. I play football to maintain my mental health. I have used football to unite young people in my community by starting Everton Sierra Leone Football Club. The football club inspires young people to maintain a positive mental attitude via sport and helps them to become productive people.
3. Keep faith in God- As a religious individual who has huge faith in God, I consider every circumstance in life as a test from God. Knowing that there is always success after enduring difficult tests keeps me patient and helps me not to negatively react to situations.
4. We win or we learn- I also believe that in life we either win or learn and that there is nothing like losing. This belief inspires me not to feel bad when I don’t get what I expect but instead learn from the situation for the future. Those series of unsuccessful experience make me who I am today.
Success is a journey, not a destination.
Check out Amjata’s latest co-authored article in the Guardian here.