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Mental health is real - Be on the lookout

BY: Augustina Tawiah
Augustina Tawiah  speaking with Dr Collins Agyemang Badu
Augustina Tawiah speaking with Dr Collins Agyemang Badu

Mental health is a developmental issue. In Ghana, it is said that Ghanaians are not only suffering from economic inflation but mental health inflation as well. The President of the Ghana Psychological Association, Dr Collins Agyemang Badu (Dr CAB), speaks about mental health in the country with Daily Graphic Staff Writer, Augustina Tawiah (AT). Read excerpts of the interview below.

AT: At what point do we say one has a mental health challenge?

Dr CAB: One’s ability to handle the normal stresses common to man may determine whether one has good mental health or not. Some may have a very high level of quality mental health; others may be medium while others may have lower mental health. What all this means is that if I’m able to handle these normal stresses properly, then my mental health is good, but when one is unable to positively handle some normal stresses, then it means they have a lowered sense of mental health. If this continues and the affected person does not seek help over time, this may get worse.

If it gets worse, such that it is now affecting the person’s everyday life, their everyday patterns such as their work, their relationship with family and friends, sense of thinking, manner of reasoning and behaviour patterns, then it becomes problematic. It is at this point that we can say someone is experiencing some kind of mental health challenge. The person will, therefore, need a practising psychologist, especially a clinical psychologist or in some cases a psychiatrist, to be able to diagnose based on what they are seeing about the particular mental health challenge the person may have.

AT: What are the causes of mental health?

Dr CAB: In Ghana, the normal pressures and sources of life may be assigned as the primary reasons for mental health challenges. Let’s take the current economic situation – prices have gone up and demands on family heads, families and employers have gone up but the resources to handle these demands are low. In this case, there are imbalances so whenever there are more demands but lower resources, it leads to people thinking and worrying, which eventually becomes a mental health-related challenge.

Another thing has to do with catastrophes or crises that can hit us. The death of a relevant person in our lives can hit us so hard to the extent that one may not be eating or sleeping. If this continues for a longer period of time, one could develop a poor mental health.

Incidents such as accidents that change the social structure of families and call for adjusting can lead others to develop mental health challenges. When things such as accidents happen and somebody loses the legs, most people think a lot and also feel hopeless and in that state, some may begin to think they will be better off dead and so they may want to take their own lives.
Another common cause is non-communicable diseases and lifestyle related-challenges. Many people are losing their hands and legs simply because of diabetes and it is competing seriously with accident-related amputation. When these people go to the clinic and are told they have this or that condition, the mind takes over and they begin to think of it and that is what sadly leads people to have poor mental health.

In rural areas, poverty is strongly linked to the poor mental health status of some people. The poorer people are, the less their mental health.

AT: What are the signs of mental health?

Dr CAB: If you see that the behaviour patterns of a friend or a colleague is being extended to the extremes, it’s a wake-up call. It could be extremes to the left meaning, negative, or extreme to the right meaning too much positivity. For instance, the normal behaviour pattern is, we laugh when we have to laugh and weep or feel sad when we have to but quickly come back to the middle. However, in the case when something happens and the person is in a sad state and continues to be in that state for a longer period of time, that is extreme and is not normal. Imagine a person unnecessarily continues to laugh at every single thing. In as much as laughing is good, in this case, it is extreme.

For us to be able to identify that someone close to us needs help, we ought to judge by the degree to which that person is behaving. If you realise that this person is now keeping himself or herself indoors for a long time and this behaviour is consistent for a period of time, it is a wake-up call and we need to check up on them.

When it comes to the use of the internet, a lot of tertiary and senior high school (SHS) students are giving in to behavioural addictions such as betting, the use of the internet and pornography, which are the three deadliest behavioural ­­­addictions many young ones have been exposed to. If you realise that somebody is unduly spending so much time on his or her phone, once again, it is a wake-up call.

AT: How do we deal with people with mental health problems?

Dr CAB: You have to engage them, talk to them, some may open up, some may not. Those who may open up, do they have some kind of challenges and are they ready to seek help?

AT: Are there enough interventions in the country to deal with mental health care?

Dr CAB: I wouldn’t say they are enough. Currently, we have three different zones in terms of psychiatric centres and let’s look at this correlation. Stigma regarding mental health care and seeking help is gradually going down, which means that many people are now beginning to seek help. The more people are seeking help and we still have fewer resources means if we don’t take care, we will be denying people getting quality mental health care.

For the past few years, the Ministry of Health has not recruited psychologists to support adequately the needs of Ghanaians. Imagine the formation of a strategic body like Mental Health Authority delayed. As we are speaking now, Ghana Psychology Council, the body that is supposed to regulate the teaching, practice and licensure of psychologists, the board is yet to be reconstituted. For me, these are gaps.

AT: What are the consequences of poor mental health

Dr CAB: There is no way you can de-link mental health from some of the bizarre media reports we hear. When the mental health of people gets lowered or increased, we have people with lowered mental health, there could be potential challenges. This could be normal domestic violence and conflict within the family setting.

If increasingly, people are becoming violent and we have a lot of youth who are unemployed and every protest they follow, we may have to be interested in what is going on in the lives of such people.

The soaring economic conditions, how is it affecting the mental health of children, families, employers and safety and security of people? In the coming months, the Ghana Psychological Association will launch research to understand some of these indicators on them.