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Opinions of Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Columnist: Patrick Twumasi

Mental illness a common enemy


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10th October is observed annually as World Mental Health Day all over the world. Ghana joins the rest of the world to commemorate this Day, which is set aside to raise awareness of mental health issues and mobilize efforts in support of better mental health. Again, the day is observed for global mental health education and advocacy. This year’s celebration marks the 25th since it first commemoration in 1992 at the initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health. The theme for this year’s celebration is “Mental Health in the workplace”.

During our adult lives, a large percentage of our time is spent at work. Our experience in the workplace is one of the factors defining our overall wellbeing. Industry players who put in place workplace initiatives to promote mental health and to support employees who have mental disorders see gains not only in the health of their employees but also in their productivity at work.

Depression and anxiety disorders are common mental disorders that have an impact on our ability to work, and to work productively. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 300 million people suffer from depression, the leading cause of disability. More than 260 million are living with anxiety disorders. Many of these people live with both. A recent WHO-led study estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity.

The attitude of people towards mental health especially a mental health culturally unfriendly country such as Ghana makes it difficult for colleagues to disclose their mental condition at the workplace. Therefore, policy makers and social partners have to get involved in concerted interventions to tackle Psychological hazards, which are causes of work-related stress.

Nonetheless, the posture of the Ghanaian towards mental health, which is ingrain in our culture, has sipped in to the work environment. This has resulted in the neglect of lay down Organisational and Industrial Psychological principles, which ensure smooth working environment. The mental health and its impact on the arrangement of tools for the assurance of productivity are not paid attention to. This has can have negative effect on employee performance. A negative working environment, on the other hand, may lead to physical and mental health problems, harmful use of substances or alcohol, absenteeism and lost productivity. Human Resource policies, therefore, play a role in ensuring working relationships based on trust, authenticity and partnership.

Many countries have legislations that protect the disabled. However, it has not proved to be sufficient to reduce inequalities. It is striking that, when broken down by type of disability, mental illness is the condition which is still associated with the greatest disadvantage in terms of employment rates. In spite of the efforts by legislators to correct the mental illness disadvantage, stigma and lack of awareness of mental health issues in the workplace persist as barriers to equality. Additionally, stigma and discrimination can also negatively influence opportunities for employment.

Less focused on mental health can result in diminished productivity, foregone tax based income, high workplace accidents and increase in staff turnover. Poor mental health also impacts the concentration of employees at work.

The recent spate of suicide cases reported in the media calls for critical attention and focus on mental health issues in Ghana. The lack of openness on mental illness and its related issues, such as direct and indirect stigma permeating the Ghanaian society deserves a concerted effort to defeat it. Because, there is increasing evidence of the negative role that stigma plays by decreasing the chances of people seeking proper diagnosis and treatment. Due to the negative impact of stigma on individuals and families many workers are comfortable to discuss with co-workers family members who are diagnosed with cancer as compared to mental health.

There are rational and valid reasons for employees being cautious about disclosure of their mental health status. People with mental illness are more likely to be unemployed than people without any mental issues. However, working is important for the recovery of the mentally ill.

Mental health issues are neglected all over the world. In Ghana it is not only relegated to the back drop of the health sector, but, culturally mental health is not a priority. Governments over the years have paid less attention to the concerns of mental health in Ghana.

Culturally, mental issues, particularly, mental illness is highly stigmatized at all levels and has generated a significant impact on patient care. Discussions on mental illness are minimal and no concrete decisions are made on the numerous challenges that confront this neglected sector of health. The cultural frown on mental health has a stigma that prevents patients of mental illness in communities to seek treatment. The negative attitude towards mental health push some families to shun patients with mental illness, and this makes it challenging for reintegrating such individuals into communities after treatment.

Additionally, the cultural stigma on mental health is deterring Professionals from opting for mental health. This culminates into those who choose to specialize in mental health often been looked down by other health providers. The permeating nature of the cultural stigma has negative effect on government officials and policy makers, resulting in less attention and funding for mental health.

Again, a pertinent issue confronting mental health in Ghana is the education of Mental Health Professionals. Many of the Mental Health Nurses end up at Diploma in Mental Health Nursing. Those who get the opportunity to upgrade outside the country do not return after their training. The lack of higher education in the country for Mental Health Practitioners is a disincentive to professionals who already find themselves at a ‘neglected’ area of our health sector.

According the World Health Organisation (WHO), Ghana is estimated to have approximately 13 percent Ghanaians who are suffering from a mental disorder. 3 percent suffer severe mental disorder, while 10 percent suffer moderate to mild mental disorder. However, a large percentage of Ghanaians do not receive diagnosis.

In spite of the mirage of challenges facing mental health in Ghana, few citizens who get diagnosed get treated. This calls for Civil Society and Policy makers to close their ranks for a common interest against an enemy that we are all at risk.

Patrick Twumasi

Member, Board of Directors

Mental Health and Well-being Ghana NGO
0209045931

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