Scary, staggering, distressing and deplorable were among the words employed in social media to describe the number of Gambians suffering from some form of mental illness as reported by a local newspaper and quoting from The 2015 – 2025 Mental Health Policy.
According to the Mental Health Policy document, 91,000 or 10% of Gambians 15 years and above suffers from some form of mental illness. Based on a 2004 World Health Organization estimates, 27,000 or 3% of Gambians 15 years and over I s suffering from a severe mental disorder. 118,000 or 13% of the adult population and according to the mental health expert who worked on the study, this figure is an underestimation. When adjusted, the prevalence of the scourge is 25% or 1 in 5 Gambians, a figure comparable to figures in developing countries like Nigeria and Uganda.
Drug and alcohol abuse are a major cause of, what has become, a major public health problem that is further complicating the economic and social advancement of a country whose economy is already on a melt done mode. The figures are dismal. In the Banjul – Kombo St’ Mary’s area ( or Greater Banjul ) 6 – 8 persons of every 100 persons are classified as alcoholics. 5 – 10% of all Kombo Central residents are habitual users of illicit drugs – a figure that is likely to be under-reported.
The prevalence of illicit drug use, especially cocaine has accelerated under the regime of Yaya Jammeh. To illustrate the point, a recent visitor to The Gambia who has lived in the United States for a decade and a half, returned to admit that he has never seen cocaine in his life until his last visit to his home country.
A two-ton, $ 1 billion street value cocaine haul in The Gambia in 2005 was the proof that the regime of Yaya Jammeh is very much involved in the South American drug trade that uses The Gambia as a transit point. Jammeh has admitted of a $ 3 million per month in exchange for his regime to turn a blind eye for the South American drug barons to use the Bonto facility.
Drug and alcohol abuse contribution to the mental illness problems of the country is further aggravated by a deteriorating economic environment resulting from bad economic policies of a regime that has displayed breathtaking level of incompetence and high-level corruption which has pushed the level of poverty to unacceptable levels.
The stress levels are high, especially during the periods of the Muslim Feast of Eid ul-Adha (known as "Tabaski" locally) when the prices of ram for sacrificial purposes are beyond the reach of many Gambians.
Unfortunately, the regime has also fallen short on the treatment of the mentally ill, and thus the gap is widening with a shortage of treatment facilities. The old treatment center at Campama in Banjul was transformed into a prison - when the Tanka Tanka facility was built - instead of it being renovated to increase capacity, given what has become a national endemic affecting not only families but the economy as well. The failure of the policies of the regime is at the center of the mental health crisis which has taken on a degree of urgency that must be addressed if Gambia is not to lose an entire generation of Gambians.