According to WHO and the Ghana Mental Health Authority, an estimate of 3.1 million Ghanaians have one form of mental disorder or another with 16, 000 having severe cases.
These statistics are very worrying considering they represent a whopping 10% of Ghana’s 31 million population. The Health Minister, Mr. Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, addressed Parliament early on in the week and stated, “It has been established that 41 percent of Ghanaians have psychological distress- mild, moderate, severe…”. He added that this in turn contributed to a cost of 7% in GDP loss. While the minister assured the House that his ministry and its allied institutions, including the Mental Health Authority, were addressing the problem the issue remains that not much education or sensitization exists regarding mental health in Ghana. Especially in a country where a culture of silence exists with regards to mental issues.
Mental disorders, just like physical illnesses, are conditions that affect your feeling, thinking, mood or all-round behaviour. They may be occasional or chronic (long-lasting). They can affect one’s ability to not only relate with other people but also function effectively. There are a range of mental disorders, each of them affecting those who have them in different ranges. Some relatively popular mental disorders include: Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Anxiety or Panic Disorder, Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Eating Disorders, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Personality and Psychotic Disorders which include schizophrenia and Dementia, which is a deterioration of cognitive functions.
There are many factors that contribute to mental illness and some can include genes or family history of mental disorders, life experiences or a history of abuse, chemical imbalances, brain injuries, and the use of narcotics and even feelings of loneliness or isolation.
Unlike some physical illnesses that manifest to the naked eye, mental disorders require medical diagnosis. A medical history, a physical exam and a psychological evaluation are some ways through which this is done.
In Ghana, the issue of accepting that certain behavioural tendencies are as a result of mental disorders is almost non-existent. For many, the idea that they could have a mental disorder is considered an insult to their mental faculties—no one wants to be seen as crazy. But treatment does exist for mental disorders and an awareness towards this is what needs to be foregrounded in Ghana. In this age of social media which has amplified feelings of guilt, general sadness and low-worth among young people, education and treatment of mental disorders are necessary. Tolerance, education and sensitization are a must if Ghana truly hopes to tackle this burgeoning issue.
Ghanaian media personality Abena Korkor who weeks ago had a hyperactive episode is a popular advocate for mental health.
She has been living with bipolar, which is a mental disorder characterised with manic episodes of high energy and risk-taking behaviours and depressive episodes of sadness, apathy and guilt, for almost all her life. In her most recent manic episode, Abena Korkor listed certain high-profile celebrities she had entertained. While impressing on Ghanaians the nature of her condition, she educates on the need for tolerance for people with mental disorders as well as the necessary treatment.
If we are to tackle this social and health issue then we will have to start from us. Conversations on mental health which were considered taboo have to be had. You are not crazy for feeling consistently anxious. You are not lazy for grappling with depression. You are not remotely stupid for staying in abusive situations. The onus falls first with us as Ghanaians- as a people to be tolerant, open-minded and receiving of people dealing with mental disorders.
In Ghana, the stigma for people living with mental disorders is a matter that primarily needs public discourse. However, the concomitant issue of access to mental health is not attainable to a large portion of the population due to financial and logistical constraints. Facilities such as the Accra Psychiatric Hospital and the non-profit Mental Health Society of Ghana (MEHSOG) require funding and resources to tackle the worrying cases of mental illness in the country. While growing awareness is needed it is also the remit of the Government of Ghana to resource and retool existing and new facilities for the treatment and rehabilitation of persons living with mental disorders.
We can only hope that this address by Minister Kwaku Agyeman-Manu to parliament will lead to the radical progress that Ghana’s mental problem needs.