Ghana, the model of hope for Africa, has over the years demonstrated great achievements in Governance, Leadership, Education, Health and Security. However, with Ghana’s prosperity in mind, there is a need to further build infrastructure for basic services, including health which are far from meeting the needs of the population. This is particularly the case in mental health, where many years of neglect have left services even further behind. This is now beginning to change, with Ghana adopting a progressive Mental Health Act (2012), a reflection of the substantial efforts made by a growing civil society sector interested in mental health. A healthy mind of citizens transforms better into a productive nation enhancing prosperity and growth which has the potential to enable Ghana to shine as a beacon of hope for Africa.
Research from the World Health Organisation (WHO), (no date), suggests, out of an estimated 30.42 million people living in Ghana, about 650,000 are suffering from a severe mental health difficulty and a further 266,000 are suffering from a moderate to mild mental health illness. However, there is no help and support for these individuals with a treatment gap of 98% with a large proportion of the total population expected to have a mental disorder. Mental health services in Ghana are available at most levels of care. However, most of the care is provided through specialized psychiatric hospitals (close to the capital and servicing only a small proportion of the population), with relatively little government provision and funding for general hospital and primary healthcare-based services. The few community-based services being provided are private, but with a large rural population many individuals do not receive appropriate support
The media have played their role in telling the ‘Unspoken and Unheard’ of various forms of mental illness ranging from self-harm to suicide, depression of many prominent people mostly in the formal sector of employment in Ghana. But what is really known of the poor ‘Unspoken and Unheard’ farmer from Nandom in the Upper West Region? Have the media broadcast changed people’s perception about mental health or is still unknown, unspoken and classified as witchcraft or superstition?
Research indicates there are about 123 mental health outpatient facilities, 3 psychiatric hospitals, 7 community based psychiatric inpatient units, 4 community residential facilities and 1-day treatment centre to cater for an estimated population of 30.42 million of Ghanaians, which is well below what would be expected for Ghana’s economic status, M. Roberts, et al (2014). It is clear the above facilities are inadequate in providing appropriate treatment to all those people affected and sadly tells the story of the ‘Dark Mind’ of the ‘unspoken and unheard’ in Ghana.
Ghana has experienced a positive trend in its economic development over the past two decades and seen a gradual strengthening of its democracy in recent years. Ghanaian society scarcely speaks about mental illness, and people’s attitudes haven’t change in speaking about mental illness, and when mental health is discussed it is done in a way that perpetuates stigma and a fear of those that suffer from it, with most forced to rather bear in silence than being labeled as “crazy”. This overall picture hides persistent inequity.
Health policies should integrate and involve the community in active participation in the understanding and advocacy role of mental health as a measure of increasing need. An awareness to openly discuss mental health and seek early treatment requires a step-change in the delivery and access to care for all Ghanaians. When more people understand the importance of protecting the mental wellbeing of the population, they will demand the policy changes to ensure it. Transparency about mental illness will become a norm and will gradually render fear and labeling obsolete. The research directives which aims to alleviate the challenges faced by those suffering from mental health may provide pragmatic solutions aimed at tackling this large mental health treatment gap. Let’s talk about mental health in our homes, religious centres, workplaces and communities and find solutions the now obsolete to and damaging concept of ‘Dark Minds’.
Author: Pascal Landindome Navelle
Public Health Consultant
Mind ‘N’ Health – Nexus, University of Leeds
Email: [email protected]