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Opinions of Thursday, 28 July 2011

Columnist: Amoah, Anthony Kwaku

4 Psychiatrists For Over 2 Million Mental Patients?

By Anthony Kwaku Amoah

“As a nation, Ghana has only fifteen psychiatrists, with only four of them still in active service”, disclosed in the Ghanaian Chronicle (Friday, May 27, 2011 pg.6)
I stalwartly go with the Chronicle’s lead statement of its Friday, May 27, 2011 editorial that says, “There cannot be many diseases on earth with more terrible consequences than mental illness”.

Sometimes, I ask myself why these days there appears to be more mentally sick people roaming the streets of Accra than it used to be. In fact, almost every corner of the city would present to you a mentally deranged individual who is either walking about very dirty or lying down on the ground prostrate with a clear-cut symptom of stark hunger.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a well-built but dirty mad woman busily picking some pieces of food in the big gutter at Alajo and in actual fact, I was saddened at the spiteful scene.

Upon seeing this beautiful lady in such a deplorable condition, tears started running down my eyes and I had no option than to throw 50 GHP to her and faded out of the scene.

There are numerous me
ntally ill people in our villages, towns and cities to such an extent that one even wonders if nothing can be done to these people, as far as treatments are concerned.

It is therefore disturbing to learn that, of the estimated 24 million or so of Ghana’s population, a whopping figure of about 2.4 million people are said to have experienced one form of mental illness or the other, irrespective of their ages and social status.

By this figure, we have been made to understand that for every ten individuals randomly picked, one person must be expected to be mentally troubled-a situation which is very serious considering government’s anthem of making Ghana a better nation.

In my opinion, if there had been comfortable socio-economic, political, psychological and cultural conditions in the country, most citizens would not have fallen sick mentally and chosen to flock to the major streets and markets of the city, especially to be begging for arms or feeding on garbage as a way of eking out a living.
So long as we continue to experience acute graduate unemployment, the situation of frustration would surely be there hence the psychological disturbance that could also lead to madness.
I do not think the issue of drugs use has been handled enough by the government to warrant any chance of preventing some youth from accessing and abusing such substances. As long as media reports continue to inform us about wee here, tobacco there, etc there is no way we can say goodbye to mental illnesses in this country.
Our churches and schools have also lived below expectation, as far as religious and moral education is concerned. Rape, abortion, armed robbery, money laundering, child abuse and many more have all engulfed the country such that, the victims, most often than not, tend to experience various forms of socio-economic and psychological traumas which eventually set the tone for the development of mental sicknesses.
A visit to the three major psychiatric hospitals in the country would tell you that most of the cases reported there are attributable principally to disappointments of all kinds, physical tortures and the use of hard, illicit drugs.
Instead of government to remain focused on its core mandate of providing quality governance to the citizenry by trying to remove all social and economic stumbling blocks from the way of citizens, it rather commits itself in making vile propaganda against the opposition parties.
I strongly believe that government is very much aware of the sharp decline in the number of psychiatric specialists and nurses in the country. Impeccable statistics have it that, with a total of about 15 psychiatric specialists that the country can boast of, only 4 are currently at post; there are 600 psychiatric nurses instead of the over 3,000 needed; 115 community psychiatric nurses instead of over 3,000 required, and with only three psychiatric hospitals operating in the country.
Aside of the sharp fall in the number of human resource, we have also been told of lack of logistics and materials for the few workers to use in treating the numerous patients who live in the three heavily congested hospitals.
I have on countless occasions heard the chief psychiatrist and an astute advocate of mental health in Ghana, Dr Akwasi Osei lament on the deplorable states of the nation’s psychiatric facilities and the need for urgent interventions in order to make life a bit comfortable for the inmates who, he always says, are also human beings just like any other normal person.
What also wonders me is the lackadaisical attitude of parliament in having the Mental Health Bill quickly passed into law so that the unfortunate mentally sick individuals can also enjoy some modicum of human rights, care and protection.
Ghana can in no way be said to be peaceful and better than it was before if it continues to sideline any section of society and treat it with impunity. For how long can we continue to see a chunk of mad people and psychologically traumatized individuals lining the streets waiting for vehicles to stop upon an order from the traffic lights for them to invade the roads begging for arms from commuters?
I remember full well how the Kufuor-led administration temporarily cleared the major streets of Accra of all mentally ill people prior to the 2007 African cup of nations that Ghana hosted just to avoid any embarrassments that these unfortunate citizens might subject the foreigners to on the roads.
This clearly demonstrates that the condition of mental illness can also affect the nation’s tourism potentials and international image, hence the need for government to commit adequate resources into that subsector of the Ministry of Health.
I should think that the massive brain drain within the mental health sector could be due to poor conditions of service. There is therefore the need for government to do something about the workers’ situations to enable them deliver their services with high level passion.

I would also want to suggest to government and for that matter the Ministry of Health to support the various universities and health training institutions to train more clinical psychologists, psychotherapists, psychoanalysts and other psychiatric-related professionals so that they can supplement the work of the few psychiatric specialists and nurses currently operating in the country.
Also, government must try to encourage more private sector involvement in the provision of quality psychiatric service in order to ease the pressure on the three main psychiatric facilities in the country.

On that basis, I would like to commend BasicNeeds Ghana, an NGO into mental healthcare service and human rights in northern Ghana, for the meritorious work that they are doing by providing quality treatments, care, protection and skills training to those who are described by society as being mad.