Graphic Online

Graphic Online 

MindIT: Using technology to provide mental health care

BY: Efia Akese
Mr Atsu Latey, founder, MindIT Service
Mr Atsu Latey, founder, MindIT Service

Mental health care remains one of the most neglected areas in Ghana, in spite of the harrowing effect mental illnesses have on society.

In 2017, for instance, most of the suicide, murder and assault cases reported were perpetrated by people suspected to be mentally unstable.

Access to mental healthcare facilities is one of the major challenges, as there are only three referral hospitals — the Accra Psychiatric Hospital, the Ankaful and the Pantang hospitals.

What is more, the state of these three facilities is nothing to write home about, as they are under-resourced and depend mostly on donations from benevolent individuals and groups.

There is also the issue of stigmatisation against people who are mentally ill, for which reason such people prefer to keep their situations to themselves.

It is for these reasons that a group of young people who are passionate about mental health have come together to provide support for people with mental illnesses.


The MindIT Service uses innovative IT interventions to provide care for people who are suffering from mental illnesses or psychological distress.

How it works

Riding on the wings of technology, the first tool used to screen for symptoms of any form of mental illness is the unstructured supplementary service data (USSD), popularly known as short code.

When users dial the toll free short code (*711*88#), they follow the text prompt and answer four questions which are contained in the questionnaire.

Their telephone numbers and responses are automatically forwarded to a call centre via an instant text message, after which they are connected to the community psychiatric unit closest to them for management, depending on the response.

“If the user’s condition needs the attention of a mental health professional, our Psych Corp members, made up of Psychology graduates who are currently attached to mental health facilities as national service persons, facilitate their consultation,” Mr Atsu Latey, the Founder of MindIT Service, explained.

He said currently the community psychiatric officers at the Mamprobi Polyclinic and the Ussher Polyclinic in James Town did initial clinical evaluation and assessment before medications were prescribed, some of which are covered by the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).

“If the condition is beyond the expertise of the community psychiatric officer, the patient is referred to a doctor who is a trained mental health specialist,” Mr Latey pointed out.

Target group

He said the group targeted people living with undiagnosed mental illnesses, particularly people with depressive and anxiety disorders.

He said those conditions, which were highly prevalent, were not easily identifiable like other mental disorders.

At the pilot phase, a user was referred to the Department of Psychiatry at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, where she received a free cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) session.

Challenges

The major challenge facing MindIT is funding, as the operators depend solely on contributions from team members and donations from friends and family.

“The Department of Psychiatry at the University of Ghana School of Medicine and Dentistry (UGSMD) and members of the UGSMD Debate paid for the very first USSD (short code) which was deactivated after we defaulted payment and the cost of acquisition and a three-month subscription of the current one was paid for by KESR Foundation.

Much of the funding comes from monetary contributions by the management team and associates to the service,” Mr Latey said.

He said with adequate funding, the service could be extended to the other nine regions and the group could subsequently collaborate with the Mental Health Authority to incorporate the service into its community mental health programme.

Meet the team

Aside, Mr Latey, who is a final-year medical student at the UGSMD, Ms Irene Appiah and Maame Werekoa Nimo Baffuor, both final-year medical students of the UGSMD, handle Research and Innovation and Monitoring and Evaluation of the service, respectively.

Other members are: computer engineer Edem Segbedzi, who is a 2017 graduate of the University of Ghana School of Engineering; the co-founder and head of ad content and publicity, Edem Latey, who majored in Radio and Television production at the University of Ghana; Robert Ketor, a Clinical Psychology intern at the UGSMD Department of Psychiatry; Maame Esi Coleman, a graduate student in Counselling Psychology from the Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and Rejoice Homeku, who majored in Management Information Studies at the Ashesi University.

The Psych Corps members who play a valuable role in managing the call centre are also made of young people who are passionate about mental health.