Mental health support in Cameroon
In the first four months of 2021, the Fundación Benito Menni and the Sisters Hospitallers’ Benedict Menni Mental Health Clinic in Douala (Cameroon) have undertaken a project to “Support for Mental Health Consultations in Tole,” funded by the City Council of Cendea de Olza (Spain).
This project offers mental healthcare and medication to people suffering from mental illness, especially women, in Tole, a municipality located in Cameroon’s southwest province. The need for this project has only increased as a result of the region’s political war, which has lasted more than three years.
The people treated under this initiative struggle socio-economically to gain access to food because violence in the area has caused a large portion of the population to abandon their homes.
Our mental health clinic in Douala
The Sisters Hospitallers’ St. Benedict Menni Mental Health Clinic began operating in 2000 in Douala, providing support to people suffering from neurological or mental health disorders (anxiety, stress, psychogenic headaches, nervous breakdowns, psychosis, epilepsy, etc.). The centre develops its actions through four healthcare channels: the mental health clinic, the outpatient centre, caring for the unhoused population suffering from mental illness, and dispatching the team to areas that do not have specialised mental health institutions.
In addition to caring for those suffering from mental illness and providing occupational therapy, the clinic helps raise awareness of mental health among the families of patients and society at large through audiovisual materials.
Current context in Tole
Tole is located in Cameroon’s southwest province. Its capital, BUEA (58,156 h), is situated at the foot of Mount Cameroon, an active volcano at an altitude of 1,000 meters. A team from the Benedict Menni MHC in Douala travels the 100 km to Tole once a month. At the moment, the region’s socio-political situation, which has never been exemplary, is deteriorating even more due to domestic conflicts that affect the population, with repercussions on some of the project’s activities.
Specifically, the conflict in the northwest and southwest provinces that began in 2016, which could be classified as a civil war, has intensified in recent months. On one side are the Anglophone Cameroonians, themselves divided into secessionists and federalists, and on the other side are the French-speaking government of president, Paul Biya, the military, and the police. The separatist protesters incited a series of riots in late 2016 to protest the widespread abandonment of Anglophone areas due to the appointment of French judges to courts in English regions. In 2017, this culminated in the unilateral declaration of independence of Ambazonia, an area in southwest Cameroon, by the Southern Cameroons Ambazonia Consortium United Front (SCACUF), secessionists from the English-speaking northwest and southwest regions. In light of this situation, the Cameroonian government used force as a repressive tactic, and since the country has seen a significant escalation in violence on both sides; Ambazonia also has armed groups, including the Ambazonian Restoration Forces.
In turn, the arrest of Tabe, considered the first self-proclaimed president of Ambazonia, triggered the formation of a new, armed group in 2018, the Banso Resistance Army, currently operating in the northwest. This conflict has already displaced more than 180,000 people in English-speaking areas, where both the military and separatists have been accused by international organisations of violating fundamental human rights by razing villages and attacking schools, among other atrocities.
Because it is located in the southwest, Tole is particularly affected by the conflict, especially by the recent upsurge in violence, which has had a direct impact on the activities and beneficiaries of the project, who have been forced to flee their homes.