"All of this, added to the economic impact of the pandemic and the uncertainty of when it will all end, translate into things like anger and frustration, and no one knows how to adequately deal with it because it is not much talked about and most people think it is normal."
I am Simeon Sahid Sesay and I became passionate about health while studying at St. Edward’s Secondary School, and taking part at a summer school program organized by the Young Scholars Program of the West African Medical Missions in 2010. A couple of years later, I led a team that was to design and implement a Community Outreach Initiative (COI) on mental health at Tengbeh town community. I joined the Mental Health Coalition in that same year after we did a presentation of our COI at one of their quarterly meetings
Working on mental health research projects as a data collector, my role most times goes beyond just collecting data. It requires me to provide the lead researcher with the local context, give them an idea of what is culturally appropriate, keep in mind the diversity in the target population and how to appropriately interact with all the different sets of people that we will be coming across. I work as part of a team to look at the tools we will be using to see if they can easily be understood by our target respondents.
Another important part of my role is interacting with community stakeholders because every community we get to, we first have to talk to the head of that community who could be the paramount chief, section chief, town chief or village head man; to seek permission to interview their people. Once we get the blessing of the community head, our work becomes a lot easier because everyone else becomes more receptive to us and sometimes they even give us a guide to take us round the community and help us with whatever we need.
I have also served as a translator on my last two research projects, translating the tools to be used from English to Krio to fit into the local context and help with the understanding of the participants.
Interview with participant at "Mange Bana"
Challenges with Fieldwork
Fieldwork is fun and exciting and I love it, it’s my favourite part. I get to meet different kinds of people from different parts of the country and experience a wide variety of things, but it also has its challenges. There are early mornings and late nights, long travels in different weathers like riding a bike for up to two hours in the cold dew in the morning to get to your interview locations. Some roads are so bad and the rides so bumpy that when you get home at night you can only do three things; bathe, eat and sleep. Some roads are so dusty in the dry season that by the time you get to your interview location, you’re all covered in brown powder (dust) and have to wash some of it off before you start your interview.
Back in 2017, during the second phase of data collection for the ‘Strengthening Evidence for the Scaling of Psychological First Aid (PFA) in Humanitarian Settings’ project which was in the rainy season we would sometimes ride in the rain if it catches us on the way to our interviews. We would always pack our raincoats and boots in our bags and if it starts raining on the way we would simply park by the side of the road and gear up.
When travelling to the provinces for data collection, there are some essential wears I always pack for the long windy and dusty bike rides as well as my morning routine. Earphones for my morning playlist and also to prevent too much breeze getting into my ears, a sweater (hoodie) and a wind breaker for the cold in the morning, my sunglasses to protect my eyes for the breeze and the dust, a cap to reduce the amount of make-up (dust) that gets on my hair (although this rarely works) and since last year, facemasks for Covid-19 prevention and in order to not inhale too much dust.
Morning bike ride in Kono city
Arrived at Tikonko village in Bo District after a ride along their road which was under construction
Anger and aggression
Moving around town these days you notice a lot of anger and general aggression in the population, people are extremely impatient with each other. Drivers and riders are constantly arguing with passengers and fellow drivers and riders and pelting abusive words at each other; transportation fare is out of control with drivers determining the cost based on personal volition, going against government set prices and blaming it on the rising fuel prices and passengers accusing them of taking advantage of them.
I guess this anger and frustration has always been there but I think with the Covid-19 pandemic and its additional stress, there has been an increase due to the lack of steam blowing activities and other mechanisms of stress relief that used to be available that are no longer there. There used to be cinemas where mostly young men would go to watch football matches and shout and argue and blow off steam but due to the pandemic, that is no longer an option. People used to frequent the beach on weekends to relax and enjoy the sun and swim and cool off after a long working week, the pandemic has taken that away as well. Night clubs and beach bars were always full of people especially on the weekends but the curfew introduced due to the pandemic has significantly limited that too.
All of this, added to the economic impact of the pandemic and the uncertainty of when it will all end, translate into things like anger and frustration, and no one knows how to adequately deal with it because it is not much talked about and most people think it is normal.
How I take care of my mental health
First of all, I am not a morning person. So when we go out to do data collection especially in the provinces or when I just have to be up early to go to work, I have to do something to get myself mentally ready for the day. What I do is listen to music because I am a person who loves music very much and it is an important part of my life, so what I did a long time ago was create a playlist of high tempo, positive songs to wake me up and get me in the mental space I need to be in to get whatever I need done, done. I call it the ‘morning boost’ playlist and it contains songs from different artists but they are all high tempo, positive lyric songs.
Sometimes when I get home after a long day of work or data collection, I like to relax and listen to some of my favourite songs fairly loudly and just cool off or watch a comedy movie or an episode of one of the comedy series I follow. Some of the movies and series I like to watch include:
There is also this mantra that I have adopted recently. I first saw the photo on the home screen of Dr Rebecca Horn and asked her to share it with me: "AND ALL SHALL BE WELL."
The future of mental health in Sierra Leone
My hopes for the future of mental health in Sierra Leone are to see:
Mental health take a more prominent role in the promotion of health more generally in Sierra Leone.
People talk more openly and make greater efforts to take care of their own mental health.
The knowledge and tools arising from current mental health research be utilized to improve mental health in Sierra Leone.
Better and more effective collaborations between the traditional and modern medical practitioners in both treatment and awareness raising around mental health in Sierra Leone.
"Better and more effective collaborations between the traditional and modern medical practitioners [are needed] in both treatment and awareness raising around
mental health in Sierra Leone."