By Jones Kwesi Tagbor.
“At long last, the battle has ended! And thus, Ghana, your beloved country is free forever!” (Dr. Kwame Nkrumah)
As if it was yesterday, the sound of Nkrumah’s words echoes through the storm. It was a great joy to hear that we are no longer under colonial rule. What a happy day it was. Thanks to our freedom fighters. What suddenly changed in the 21st century after the freedom? Are we no longer capable of managing our own affairs? Are we tired of fighting our own battles? Or we are no longer interested in demonstrating to the world how prepared we are to lay the African foundation?
Ghana, is stagnating rather than making progress in various aspects of life especially when it comes to health.
Look, there can never be a complete health without mental stability. A country where 13 good percent of its adults population is estimated to be affected by mental health disorders of varying forms and no much interest is being made to rescue it. Sixty plus years of independence, this is where we are. Even learned people still stigmatise mental health.
A recent situational analysis by the World Health Organisation WHO has it that of the 21.6 million people living in Ghana, 650,000 are suffering from a severe mental disorder and a further 2,166, 000 are suffering from a moderate to mild mental disorder. The treatment gap is 98% of the total population expected to have a mental disorder.
Did you take notice of the treatment gap? 98% of the total population is expected to have a mental health disorder while we have only three psychiatric hospitals in the entire country. Don’t forget that we now have 16 regions. Out of these 16 regions, Ghana has only 3, I mean three psychiatric hospitals. Rehab facilities are not even mentioned. Special schools are hard to locate. Counseling units are hard to access.
As a good move by the front liners, community based treatment has been adopted. Do we care to know the challenges at the community levels of care? I wish to tell the authorities not to be interested in the figures only but consider the situations on the ground.
Let me mention few. There are less psychologists or psychotherapists at the community level so 90% of care must be drug base. Now the drugs to even use at the community levels are not available. These are not just imaginations. Visit any mental health unit in your vicinity and ask them when last they had any government drug for managing mental illness. Some can’t even remember the last time. Clients are forced to buy these drugs from the open market which is as expensive as gold. The cost of an average psychotropic in Ghana is higher than the minimum wage of the country. 63 years and counting after independence, this is our state.
It will be in the interest of the good people of Ghana that “almost” all psychotropic medications are not covered by National Health Insurance and for that matter must ensure they take very good care of their mental health.
The commonly prescribed psychotropic medications are grouped into four classes. These are Antipsychotics, Antidepressants, Anticonvulsants and Hypnosedatives. These drugs are in frequent shortages across the country hence the high cost. It is free if government should supply them. In times that government drugs arrive at the unit, it might be near expiry which brings the situation to default.
It is difficult to locate a rehab facility here in Ghana. The few available are also expensive to access so families who can’t afford will need to bare the risk of managing their client in their own way. More often we see these people relapse.
There is absolutely no motivation for staffs of mental health. No risk allowance upon the high risk attached to the work.
We hear of suicide cases, either attempted or completed. How active are our help lines? Are those help lines serving their purpose? Are they even available in our communities? How many Ghanaian know the number to call when in any psychological trauma? 60+ years after independence.
Ladies and gentlemen, the least said the better. Let’s just take good care of ourselves. Let’s be each others keeper. Suicide is never an option to any problem. Talk to a psychologist or a counselor when you are in any emotional wreck. Say no to alcohol and drug use. Pregnant mothers should avoid abusing medicine, parents should avoid stressing their children, make time for rest, eat well and exercise regularly.
We are still appealing to government to give attention to mental health. The community psychiatric units needs the services of psychologist or counselors. Staffs need risk allowances even if you won’t motivate them enough. They need funds to organise community activities including home visits.
We are equally appealing to individuals and philanthropists to support mental health in Ghana and Africa at large.
Stop the stigma. Mental illness can be managed and in some instances, treatable. The mental health units is to be accessed by the general population and not only the mentally challenged person. You can just walk in for free assessment or check up.
Remember; It could be you at any time.
Nkrumah will always be remembered. “Let us now, fellow Ghanaians, let us now ask for God’s blessing. Let’s thank God for having led us through our difficulties, imprisonments, hardships, and sufferings, to have brought us to our end of troubles.”
I pray we will celebrate success stories in the nearest future. Say no to mental slavery.
Long live all hardworking mental health personnels in Ghana and outside.
Long live FirstCare Ghana!
Long live Jones Series!
Long live Ghana!
Thanks for your attention.
Jones Kwesi Tagbor
Advocate -Mental Health