About 16,000 Ghanaians experience severe mental health issues -Experts

By: Henrietta Afful

16,000 Ghanaians are said to have severe mental health issues. Of the number, only 2% receive the needed care due to inadequate health professionals in Ghana.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) standards, the country needs 3,000 mental health professionals, but Ghana has less than 60 Psychiatrists.

In an interview on GTV’s Breakfast Show on how to find solutions to this challenge, a former Chairman of the Mental Health Board, Prof. J. B. Asare said efforts have been made to solve mental health issues which have yielded some gains. However, a lot more is needed.

He said for a long-time, mental health was relegated to the background. Textbooks for mental health were not much and it did not get support from policy makers.

“For a long time, mental health was relegated to the background. We didn’t have much input as far as policy makers were concerned. So mental health didn’t get the kind of support that it needed” Prof. Asare disclosed.

In the early days when the country did not have any Psychiatrist and enough medication, Ghanaians thought mental patients were a nuisance so they were kept in Asylums where they were not allowed to go out.

This situation continued until the 50s where Ghana had its first Psychiatrist and then later some doctors and nurses were sent to the United Kingdom to be trained.

Prof Asare said the first Ghanaian Psychiatrist converted the Asylums to Hospitals for other professionals to come in and lay the foundation for Mental Health in Ghana.

Asked whether Ghana had made some inroads in mental health care, Prof. Asare said Ghana has made some gains, but with the increasing population, causes of mental disorders apart from genetic factors and drug abuse, the number of people with mental issues will continue to grow.

He called for more stakeholder engagements aimed at improving the mental health sector.

For her part, the Deputy Director of Mental Health of the Ghana Health Service, Dr Ama Boadu, said mental health has been neglected for so many reasons and one of them is the stigma that patients and mental health professionals suffer.

”Society discourages doctors from specializing in mental health. They do not appreciate the fact that mental health is like any other medical condition that people suffer from”, she said.

Dr. Boadu said the Ghana Health Service for sometime now has been whipping up people’s interest in mental health and currently the country has 51 professionals, adding that there are quite a number of young doctors training to become mental health professionals.

The training has also changed and that is why most young doctors have developed interest in mental health. Hitherto only a few weeks were spent in mental health rotation but it has been extended.

Dr Boadu said although some gains have been achieved, there is a need for more advocacy. She said mental health is not as attractive as other specialties adding that though the conditions at the Accra Psychiatric Hospital are better now, and cannot be compared to other health facilities.

Dr. Boadu said there is a need for the country to prioritize mental health and make it attractive.

”One question that people, especially policy makers need to answer is why they prefer private mental health facilities to the public ones. The country needs to take mental health seriously because nobody is immune to it”.

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