Are 10% (118,000) of Gambians really ‘Mad’? rejoinder to Lamin Njie’s Article

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By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT

Yesterday’s theme for World Press Freedom Day at the University of The Gambia was ‘Journalism and Elections in the times of Misinformation’. The Deputy Clerk of the National Assembly, Gibairu Janneh, gave a speech describing disinformation and misinformation. In my understanding misinformation is when an author misinforms through lack of knowledge or through human error. Disinformation on the other hand is when the author intentionally provides the wrong information in pursuit of their agenda.

Yesterday my attention was brought to an article written by Fatu Network’s Lamin Njie (the author) under the headline ‘118,000 Mad People in Gambia – Report’. A headline like this will surely grab the reader’s attention using shock tactics to generate traffic. If this was the intended purpose of the article only the author can confirm.

The first statement highlights that ‘The Gambia government has said in a report that 13 percent of The Gambia’s adult population suffer from mental illness.’ This is inaccurate and a distortion as it intentionally omits the word ‘LIKELY’. Below is the quotation from the Gambia’s ACHPR report used to justify this statement.

‘Based on the prevalence rate from the World Mental Health Survey in 2004, it is estimated that approximately 27,000 people in The Gambia (3% of the population aged 15 years and more) are suffering from severe mental disorders and a further 9,100 (10% of the population aged 15 years and more) are suffering from moderate to mild mental disorders. This means that at least 118,000 people in The Gambia (13% of the adult population) are likely to be affected by mental disorders which require varying degrees of treatment and care.’

See image below for more information.

Page 73 of Gambia ACHPR Report

According to the above quotation only 3% of the Gambia’s population is categorized as suffering from ‘severe mental disorders’. The remaining 10% are suffering from moderate to mild mental disorders. People who suffer from depression or anxiety could be termed as suffering from moderate to mild mental disorders but they are clearly not as mentally unstable as those suffering from severe mental disorder.

What is important is the last statement in the quotation which highlights that 13% of the population is LIKELY to be affected. This should not be interpreted as 13% of the population ARE ‘mentally unstable’. Now if this was done in good faith then one could say this is misinformation. However, considering the fact that this was not the first time I had to write a rejoinder to the author on misinforming the public. This is a trend which shows no sign of abating. Watch my exclusive interview with the author on his article titled ‘Killa Ace Fans Storm Knifing Court’.

In the interview with Lamin Njie he confesses that ‘the headline that I thought would make my paper sell is that’. So in light of his insistence to using sensational headlines which mislead the public I am left with no option but to conclude that the author is engaging in disinformation with the agenda of selling papers. It’s unfortunate that a reputable sister Media Organisation like The Fatu Network is being used to disseminate inaccurate and misleading information. I hope Lamin Njie does the right thing by apologizing to the Gambian Public just like the Minister of Information Hon. Ebrima Sillah did yesterday and Gambia Press Union President, Sheriff Bojang Jnr. The apology must also follow a commitment to desists from sensationalism and focus more on providing credible information.

Finally I must point out the mistake in the ACHPR Report. Looking at the screenshot I noticed that 10% (9,100) of the population cannot be less than 3% (27,000) of the population. Simple math can show that the number should have read 10% (91,000) which when added to the 3% (27,000) totals 118,000 people. More importantly as a media practitioner one must make an effort to verify information prior to publishing. The report being referenced was published by WHO in 2004. It’s relevance after a decade and a half must be questioned. Has the number grown? Does the Government have any plans to conduct an updated survey? These are all important questions which the Ministry of Health needs answers to better understand the mental health needs of Gambians.

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