Why tell a story about mental health? In Africa??
It’s often the first question I’m asked about my work on this film, which spanned seven years and many trips to Liberia. Understandably. Mental illness isn’t something most people think about in West Africa, or any part of the world plagued with urgent problems like poverty, communicable diseases and conflict. But it’s these places that suffer the most from mental illness.
The facts alone are startling: the WHO now ranks depression as the leading causes of death and disability worldwide, and in the poorest countries as many as 90 percent of people suffering from mental disorders have no access to care.
Why aren’t we talking more about this? Mental health crises aren’t unique to Liberia. Today wars are raging in parts of the world including Syria, Iraq and Sudan (to name just a few). We’re seeing a global migrant/refugee crisis, a rise in violent extremism, drug wars, sectarian conflicts. All of these struggles leave deep psychological wounds. But there is hope.
That’s why I first traveled to Liberia in 2011 with director Ben Niles. We set out to document an extraordinary effort to tackle the country’s mental health problems. The Liberian government, in partnership with the Atalanta-based Carter Center, had trained its first-ever community mental health workers. After graduating from a six-month program, these young Liberians set out to identify and treat trauma, depression and other psychiatric problems in a country where people who suffer from them are thought to be cursed, leaving them cast out, neglected and abused.
During the course of filming, the three health workers we followed – Aaron, Helena and Quendi – faced unimaginable challenges. There were many times, especially during the height of the Ebola outbreak, when I couldn’t imagine how they could possibly go on. But they did. And that, to me, is the essence of this film.
There’s a wonderful quote by Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee, who helped bring an end to Liberia’s long civil war: “You can tell people of the need to struggle, but when the powerless start to see that they really can make a difference, nothing can quench the fire.”
STILL WE RISE is much more than a front-lines exposé of the invisible but deadly mental health crises in developing nations like Liberia. It’s an inspiring, hopeful look at a few courageous nurses who are working to treat a problem the world still lacks the will to tackle. It’s also a call to action. As we release the film to a wider audience, we’ll be launching a campaign to support the incredible work of these mental health pioneers. The world needs more of them.
— Molly Knight Raskin