Addressing mental health in Ghana

KATH Psychiatric Unit seeing more Covid-19 related mental illness

Mental Health is primarily defined as a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being.

Effect of the disorders associated with this medical branch of study makes no exceptions in Ghana, with the latest two cases reported being that of a father in Kumasi who brutalised his son and a pastor’s son who uploaded erotic videos of himself on social media.

In a virtual interview with Dr. Eugene Dordoye, Head of Department of Psychological Medicine and Mental Health (UHAS) and Dr. Ruth Owusu Antwi who is the Vice President of the Psychiatry Association of Ghana and Head of Psychiatry for Okomfo Anokye Teaching Hospital, the two health experts said the issue is more serious than it seems.

According to them, the fact that a person is acting ‘normal’, does not mean that the person has no mental issue.

Dr. Eugene Dordoye believes “being mentally ill does not necessarily mean that you lose your intellectual faculties, and because somebody makes sense or logical arguments does not mean he or she cannot be mentally ill even though they exhibit symptoms that are a clear deviation from who we know them to be”.

The two experts noted that there are a vast sum of mental health problems being experienced by some people in Ghana which includes psychosis, mood disorders from which depression and bipolar disorder emanates.

Other mental health issues include anxiety disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and the various types of phobias.

But the most common ones are substance abuse and personality disorders.

However, it is important to mention that in Ghana, the most prevalent cases of mental health disorders are depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar, and substance abuse disorders.

Early signs and symptoms of Mental Health Disorders, according to Dr. Dordoye, might include an evident change in performance or potential to deliver and a person’s interpersonal relationships.

He emphasised that “mental health is not a preserve of a particular group of people. It’s been shown that it affects all spectra of life; every person can get a mental illness”.

Aside from anxiety and sadness, the doctors warned that being overly happy, if not a normal trait of a person, is equally a symptom of mental health disorder.

They advise that, should this sign be consistent for at least 4 days, medical attention should be immediately sought. This symptom is commonly referred to as “mania”.

Dr. Ruth Owusu Antwi opines that the decline in unattended mental health issues in Ghana over the years has actually been a curse than a blessing, attributing this to the failure of the government to give enough credence and attention to Mental Health conditions.

It is sad to note that mental health facilities are only 3 throughout the country, 2 located in Accra and 1 in the Central Region.

In her words, “every district hospital should have a mental health wing because most of our health conditions are intertwined. My department for instance, at Okomfo Anokye, hasn’t seen any renovations since 1981”.

She suggested that national budget allocation should consider equal attention to Mental Health as is to HIV, malaria, cardiology, etc.

In addition, the two experts urged government to include mental health consultations in the National Health Insurance Scheme, in accordance with the Mental Health Law’s provisions of free treatment.

Public education on the need to discard stigmatization against mental health patients is another suitable solution.