Sierra Leone: CRC Report Discriminates against Persons with Mental Illness

By Stephen V. Lansana

Joshua A Duncan, Manager of Building Back Better (BBB) Project

The former coordinator of Mental Health Coalition Sierra Leone, Joshua A. Duncan said the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) draft report discriminates against the vulnerable and people with mental illness.

He told this medium in an interview that they tried to identify the major concerns relating to mental health in the 1991 Constitution and forwarded it to the National Commission of Persons with Disability.

“But we realised that the same concerns that were raised about the discriminatory clauses in the 1991 Constitution are still found in the new CRC draft report, not necessarily for people with physical conditions, but for people with mental health challenges,” he said.

Duncan said the discriminatory clauses are so reflective in the CRC draft report. He said the 1991 constitution states that Every Citizen of Sierra Leone being eighteen years of age and above, and of sound mind shall have the right to vote, and accordingly shall be entitled to be registered as a voter for the purposes of public elections and referenda.

“What parameter do we use to determine a sound mind?” he asked. He said when they looked at mental health, they realised that there is no perfect sound mind person, adding that the definition of a sound mind is ambiguous.

He said sections 77 (1) © and 77 (2) which talk about lunatic are archaic and should not be in the constitution. “The language ‘Lunatic’ is never the modern way of referencing to people with mental health conditions. “I would suggest ‘seriously challenged with mental health conditions’,” he emphasized.

He said, “Again in terms of modern trends, the term ‘lunatic’ is not by any means appropriate and could be replaced by ‘suffering from critical mental health problems’.” “As there are issues of anxiety which will not fall under such categories; infirmity of body or mind could be a legal terminology, but does not fall less of discriminatory language. ‘Illness of body or mind/ physically or mentally illness’ could be a better alternative,” he added.

Duncan stated that CRC did not look at the dynamics of language. Instead, it just copied verbatim all what are in the 1991 Constitution and transferred it to the CRC draft report. He added that sections like 31, 50, 76, 77 (1, 2), 137 (4), and 140 should been reviewed.

He pointed out that the CRC should look at the constitution of Ghana to see the dynamics of language used and how to provide for people that has a balanced frame of mind, so that they can contribute to nation building.

He pointed out that there is no permanent condition in live. “So, if an individual suffers from mental illness and recovers, should he has the right to vote and to be voted for or should we take their past and disenfranchised them?” he asked. He said this is a clinical view that needs to consider.

He said that the CRC should have included clinical people in the review process, so that they will provide a clinical perspective.

Duncan said that mental health condition can be managed and cured, and that people with mental illness also have rights just like any other patient who suffers from illness like malaria, HIV/AIDS, and so no.

He pointed out that the Mental Health Act is under review, adding that the Act is also discriminatory.

He said they are just asking the CRC to review the discriminatory definitions, so that it will favour all and sundry.