Time to deal with mental health challenges

BY: Isaac Yeboah

Until some time last year, Ghana did not have a mental health law to regulate and provide policy guidelines on mental health in the country.
Mental health was subsumed in the general health laws of the country and that situation resulted in a lot of agitation from both health practitioners and public-spirited citizens for a law to be passed to not only regulate the sector but also promote mental health.

Since the law was enacted, the necessary institutional bodies are yet to be established to superintend over the implementation of the law. The government can certainly not be stampeded into pursuing or implementing the law, a situation which may have a negative effect.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) makes it clear that mental health is not just the absence of mental disorder but “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”.

If we are to go by this definition, then it means that each and everyone of us has had some mental disorder at a point in time in our daily lives. Simply put, no one is immune to mental disorders.

In Ghana, there are three publicly acknowledged psychiatric hospitals, namely the Accra, Pantang and Ankaful Psychiatric hospitals, with a host of private centres helping to manage mental disorders.

Regrettably, the country can boast very few specialists and professional nurses to manage the heavy load of mental healthcare.

That is why when the mental health law was enacted, many professionals were enthusiastic about it and were of the hope that the end to the challenges confronting mental health treatment was in sight.

On countless occasions, the authorities of the psychiatric hospitals have had to pour out their frustrations to members of the public, including threats of closing down the hospitals. The most recent is the threat by the authorities of the Accra Psychiatric Hospital to close down the hospital due to shortage of foodstuffs, drugs and other consumables.

The Daily Graphic thinks that the earlier we give urgent attention to mental health issues, the better it will be for us. The experts have always warned that stress levels among individuals are different and their management is also another issue.

It is important that we do not equate mental health disorders to madness. At best, the mismanagement of a mental disorder could result in madness.

Thus, it is possible that a neatly dressed gentleman or lady who has left the house or office could find himself or herself at the psychiatric hospital the next moment, depending on his or her emotional strength and weakness and the factors that could trigger the mental disorder.

It is in this vein that the Daily Graphic calls on the government to find solutions to the challenges facing the psychiatric hospitals to avoid the threat of closure.

We know resource constraints make it impossible for governments in developing countries to allocate more resources to the social sectors. But we do not think it is fair that the very few professionals in the country are deprived of basic resources — food and medical consumables — to render dedicated services to their Motherland.

The earlier we took steps to address the challenges facing our psychiatric hospitals, the better it would be for our society.