A looming crisis for mental health

BY: Daily Graphic
minister for health, Kwaku Agyemang Manu
minister for health, Kwaku Agyemang Manu

There is a thin line between sanity and insanity.

It is a line that cannot be seen but exists and is staring at us.

Experts say we all have the potential to develop mental health problems, no matter how old we are, whether we are male or female, rich or poor, or which race we belong to.

Even more frightening is that in Ghana, statistics from the Mental Health Authority suggest that four million people are suffering from mild-to-severe mental disorders, including depression, anxiety and bi-polar disorders and schizophrenia, with depression and schizophrenia as the lead disorders.

The World Health Organisation defines mental health as a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.

The list of signs of a potential mental health case includes withdrawing from people or activities an individual would normally enjoy, sleeping or eating too much or too little, displaying uncharacteristic emotions, thinking of harming oneself or others, hearing voices and feeling as if nothing matters.

That benchmark from the world body is a stark reminder of our failure as a nation to pay attention to this phenomenon.

The signs are visible on our streets and a ticking health time bomb that may take as by surprise.

The sad reality of the situation is that our society in general and our successive governments in particular have been paying lip service to mental health.

We are all guilty of stigmatisation, making it difficult for those who have recovered from mental illness to be reintegrated into society.
We are all guilty of watching while the government starves psychiatric hospitals of funds.

We are all guilty of sitting quietly for our members of Parliament to pass laws with political interests with urgency, while the Legislative Instrument (LI) on mental health to end the frustration of psychiatric hospitals continually relying on the government for funding sits in the House.

The LI includes the establishment of the mental health fund which will provide funds to run the various mental health facilities in the country.

In 2012, we all applauded the passage of the Mental Health Bill into law and went back to sleep, thinking the reforms the law introduced would automatically work without funding.

They did not and it is our collective failure.

We have reduced our psychiatric hospitals, which should ideally be the last port of call for mental health cases, into beggars.

They live on charity, from consumables to beds.

Budget allocations never get to them.

Until mental health workers strike, they are forgotten.
To add to that, the acting Director of the Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital has raised red flags over how compelling our children to wake up early as a way of beating traffic may be exposing them to mental health issues.
 According to WHO, much can be done to help build mental resilience from an early age to help prevent mental distress and illness among adolescents and young adults and to manage and recover from mental illness.

As we join the rest of the world to celebrate Mental Health Day on October 10, the Daily Graphic believes that this is the time for all of us, particularly the government, to take immediate steps to address the funding gap in mental health to enable the Mental Health Authority to focus on its mandate of ensuring a sound mind for the nation.
The recent spate of Tramadol abuse which has taken over the nation should rake our conscience and draw our attention to the dangerous path we may be trekking in not paying adequate attention to mental health.

Now is the time, otherwise we may wake up tomorrow to confront a wave of young people killing themselves or threatening us with violence because while we slept, we forgot to close the mental health door well.