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Opinions of Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Columnist: Ahmed Tijjani Usman Dogo

Mental Health in Ghana

I read your article ‘Mentally ill patients denied healthcare’ 9/8/2015, with sadness, disappointment and sorrow. The dumping of the mentally ill people in our streets and communities today raised a very profound question about our moral and social responsibilities to fellow human beings. How did we get to this moral breakdown in our society? Does a person with mental health problem a ‘lesser human being’ in our society?

I cannot imagine any ‘right thinking’ person will drive vulnerable people in a bus or a car in a middle of the night and dumped them in a town unfamiliar to them, knowing very well that these people will need food, clothes, shelter, warmth, support and care. This immoral act has beaten my imagination and my heart still bleeds for justice.

With the passing of the Ghana’s Mental Health Act in 2012, one will have thought that people with mental health issues will be treated with utmost respect and dignity as stipulated in Act 846 of the Mental Health Law. Unfortunately, this incidence and other recent occurrences have shown that things have not changed for the mentally ill patients in our part of the world.

The state of our mental health institutions need not reiterated, the continuing low level of staffing, underfunding and low morale among professionals are the bane of our mental health care system in Ghana. Until these areas are adequately resourced, we’ll continue to see these inhumane treatment and other forms of abuses of these vulnerable people in our communities.

The truth is that there is still a lot of ignorance around mental health issues and people who are affected by it. Mentally ill patients are not confident to discuss their mental health issues with families or friends or seek professional help for fear of being labelled or stigmatised. As a society we need a change of attitude towards mentally ill people.

There are two key areas of the MHA 2012 Act 846 which if adequately implemented will help reduce these abuses of the vulnerable people who needed our support most.

1. Ending stigmatisation and discrimination

• Challenge the public perception about mental illness.

• Challenge the myths about mental health and people who are affected by it.

• Encourage enabling environment which will allow people affected by mental illness to express themselves free from being stigmatised or discriminated against.

• Break down barriers between mentally ill people and professionals such as the police, teachers, and other health care professionals.

• Challenge stereotypical images of mentally ill patients. • Training of Voluntary advocacy group to advocate and represent mental health patients at all levels. 2. Resources. • Adequate human resources is urgently needed for the effective and efficient delivery of mental health care in Ghana

• Training, hiring and retention of psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses must be broadened to include social workers, clinical psychologists, advocacy, occupational therapists, Cognitive Behaviour therapists and health care workers to collaborate and work as a multidisciplinary team.

• The Ghana police force must take a pro active stance in dealing with any reported cases of abuse of the mentally ill people.

• The implementation of the mental health tribunal which is currently in the pipeline must be hurriedly implemented to start its work to safeguard the human rights, dignity and confidentiality of the mentally ill people.

• Finally, the legislative instrument currently being worked at by the Mental Health Authority (MHA) must be implemented to ensure the effective functioning and implementation of the MHA Law in its entirety.

Ahmed Tijjani Usman Dogo. BA, MSc, Dip

A former Psychiatric nurse in the UK now based in Ghana.

Co-founder of: Ghana- UK mental Health Alliance (GUMHA)

E-mail: Ahmeddogo@gmail.com/ Tjusm35@hotmail.com