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Opinions of Saturday, 11 March 2017

Columnist: Appiah, Ben Ofosu

Address depression, suicidal thoughts and mental health care among teens and adolescents

Appiah, Ben Ofosu

Wake Up Ghana:

In the last couple of weeks, 4 cases of suicide have been reported in the news with three of the victims being teenagers. Four cases of suicides in two weeks, (there may be an unreported case somewhere) this must raise alarm bells about the state of mental health care in the country. First, there was the case of the KNUST student who was reported to have hanged herself in her room, then came the University of Ghana student, who was reported to have jumped from the 4Floor of her Hall of residence to her death. A 16 year old girl in New Tafo in the Eastern region was also reported to have hanged herself in her mother’s kitchen, and a young man in his 30’s was found hanging on a tree around the Achimota forest.

The Ministry of Health and the sector Minister must actually lead a national debate on how to fix the country’s broken Mental Health delivery system. I have not heard much from the Ministry since these cases were reported. Mental illnesses are disorders of brain function. They have many causes and result from complex interactions between a person’s genes and their environment. Having a mental illness is not a choice or a moral failing. Mental illnesses occur at similar rates around the world, in every culture and in all socio economic groups. The statistics are staggering, 1 in 5 young people suffer from a mental illness, that’s 20 percent of our population but what percentage of the National Health budget is spent on Mental Health care?

The impact is more than in statistics. Mental health disorder destroys life, it destroys families, it destroys communities, and it destroys a nation. Having a mental disorder should not be any different than experiencing a physical illness. And it doesn’t have to be; you can help make a difference.

A mental illness makes the things you do in life harder, like: work, school and socializing with other people. If you think you (or someone you know) might have a mental disorder, it is best to consult a professional as soon as possible. Early identification and effective intervention is the key to successfully treating the disorder and preventing future disability. A health care professional (doctor, mental health specialist, etc) will connect the symptoms and experiences the patient is having with recognized diagnostic criteria (DSM or ICD) to help formulate a diagnosis.

Mental Health Professionals separate mental disorders into a number of categories. Some of the most common mental disorders are listed below. This list is not comprehensive, but is reflective of the most common diagnoses.

Anxiety Disorders: Disturbances in brain mechanisms designed to protect you from harm.

Mood Disorders: Disturbances in usual mood states

Psychotic Disorders: Disturbance of thinking perception and behaviour

Personality Disorders: Maladaptive personal characteristics

Eating Disorders: Disturbances of weight and feeding behaviour

Developmental Disorders: Early disturbances in usual brain development

Behavioural Disorders: Persistent disturbances in expected behaviours

Addictions: Disorders of craving

Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders

Trauma and Stress-Related Disorders

Even in the United States, 75 to 80 percent of children and youth in need of mental health services do not receive them according to a study by Kataoka et al 2002. In Ghana, you can imagine the percentage of children and teens who get the help they deserve when it come to mental health delivery. There can be a variety of reasons for this primarily owing to discrimination and negative attitudes attached to seeking help for mental health issues. Others may include:

Cultural beliefs and practices, societal perceptions etc

Access to services/supports,

Availability of providers,

Not knowing where to start,

Confusion about who to see and what advice to take.

Religious practices (instead of going to see a doctor, one will go and see a pastor instead)

Mental health treatment can includes a variety of different approaches and occur in a variety of settings. Services provided depend on the needs and choices of the youth and his or her family, and the diagnosis and severity of the problem. They may consist of services such as psychotherapy with an evidence-based practice, peer mentoring, care coordination, medication, or a combination of all approaches.

People suffering from any form of mental health condition first and foremost need professional support and care. They need counselling, and they need therapy. They also need parental support and love and those having suicidal thoughts need someone to be around them all the time. No stigmatization of their condition should be allowed. The general public need a better understanding of the situation these people are in and the need to be sympathetic, compassionate and empathetic.

People need to do away with certain cultural beliefs that mental illness is caused by witchcraft. It is not. Also in most cases, when a young female commits suicide as happened in KNUST and Legon, people often jump into certain conclusions like “ oh, she suffered from a broken heart”. In most cases, that may not be the case at all and it doesn’t help at all for such speculative behavior. It is disrespectful to the victim’s family.

The spate of suicides among teens which we have experienced in the last two weeks need to get all well meaning Ghanaians, the government, and Parliament to start thinking seriously about what we can do to immediately address this serious public health issue. Ghana will need a Mental Health Bill to address this challenge. The Executive arm of government together with Parliament and all major stakeholders must work together to draft a Comprehensive Bill to help fight this menace. Increased budgetary allocation is also a priority. How many mental health facilities do we have in the country and how many are well equipped? Having clinical psychologists at all Secondary Schools and tertiary institutions, and a well equipped Counselling Center as well as in our hospitals is also important. Not all patients require medicinal therapy. And by the way all hospitals must have a mental health care department to start with.

Appiah, Ben Ofosu Accra – Ghana, The writer is a senior public policy strategist and a political, economic and social analyst. He welcomes your views and comments. E-mail: do4luv27@hotmail.com Tel #: +233 26 765 5383.