For the first time in the history of psychiatry in Ghana, as many as seven doctors are undergoing training in psychiatry to beef up the current small number of three, Dr. Akwasi Osei, Acting Chief Psychiatrist, has said.
He explained that it was difficult in the past to get the interest of young doctors to accept posting to psychiatry to be trained as psychiatrists and said there was the need to encourage more doctors to go into that field.
"But we need to put in place deliberate measures to attract young doctors and nurses to mental health. We urge the Ministry of Health and Ghana Health Service to grant some incentive packages such as free accommodation, risk allowance and free utilities. If we do business as usual then, they will leave in search of greener pastures," he cautioned.
Dr Osei said this at the launch of this year's World Mental Health Day in Accra under the theme, "Making Mental Health a Global Priority; Scaling up Services through Citizen Advocacy and Action.”
He noted that mental health remained a major problem worldwide and this had escalated due to the increased number of refugees and internally displaced persons, which had weakened the social structures, making life unbearable resulting in several diseases.
The International Organisation on Migration estimates that there were 200 million migrants worldwide with women and children representing more than 50 per cent.
He expressed regret that certain cultures were so deeply rooted that they had become stagnant and continued to perpetrate suffering and humiliation to people with mental illness.
Dr Osei noted that the three main psychiatric hospitals last year handled 95,533 old and new cases, representing four per cent increase over that of 2006. This, he explained, did not include cases seen by the community psychiatric nurses.
He expressed concern about the non-passage of the Mental Health Bill and cautioned: "If we want to see mental health care progress in the country, then we should have no choice but to pass the bill. Otherwise we are giving room for posterity to tell us that we have erred.”
President of the Ghana Mental Health Association, The Reverend Godson Apkalu said the burden of mental illness on health and productivity in the country were underestimated.
He said no one was exempted from the illness, especially with the "demanding nature of jobs we find are self in" adding that great achievers like Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther and Florence Nightingale had mental illness yet they were able to fulfil their mission on earth.
The Association's motto: "No mental Health no Health" is a clear indication that mental health should be given the recognition and priority that it deserves in today's stressful world and called for the passage of the Mental Health Bill to safeguard the total health delivery and build a mentally sound Ghana for the future generation.
Dr Daniel Kertesz, the new World Health Organisation (WHO) Country Representative, said the organisation had launched a programme dubbed; Mental Health Gap as part of this year's celebration.
He said persons with mental illness could, with proper care, psychological assistance and medication live healthy lives.
Dr Kertesz noted that many families in the African sub-region considered mental problems as the preserve of African traditional medicine, rendering patients to face suffering, which included limited access to health facilities, inadequate numbers of trained health workers and the traditional belief that mental illness was caused by witchcraft.
He condemned the ill treatment meted to metal patients where relatives and friends rejected their people found to be mentally ill and violated their basic rights.