The Executive Director of the Mental Health Authority, Dr Akwasi Osei, has said that mental health care in Ghana is one of the worst on the continent and needs critical attention.
Speaking to The Mirror in the wake of the recent attacks and killings perpetrated by people suspected to be mentally unstable, Dr Osei stated that mental health had become a silent national crisis owing to poor quality of care in that area.
According to Dr Osei, who is also the Chief Psychiatrist in charge of the Accra Psychiatric Hospital, Ghana’s doctor-patient ratio in the mental health sector stands at 1:1.7 million as compared to 1:1 million in Nigeria and 1:50,000 in Kenya.
He said a report issued sometime ago suggested that 41 per cent of the population, predominantly women, suffered from mental distress and depression. The situation, he feared, was likely to worsen per the current outlook.
According to him, records from the out-patient departments of the major mental health care facilities - Accra Psychiatric Hospital and the Pantang and Ankaful hospitals - in 2015 indicated over 100,000 patients. Some cases also often go unreported.
This figure, Dr Osei explained, showed that mental illness in Ghana is galloping at an astronomical rate and urgent attention is needed to help stem the situation.
A taxi driver, Charles Antwi, grabbed headlines last year when he went to the church where President Mahama worships, with a gun ostensibly to shoot him. He was later confirmed as mentally unwell.
Three elderly farmers were also murdered in cold blood in Jamasi in the Ashanti Region by a suspected mentally challenged person, while media reports also indicated that a mentally unstable man in the Eastern Region also killed a young girl and ate her flesh.
There was also a report of the gruesome murder of a family of five by a suspected mentally challenged man at Assin Akrofuom in the Central Region.
The New Patriotic Party’s (NPP) parliamentary candidate for the Cape Coast North Constituency in the upcoming general election, Barbara Asher Ayisi, also escaped an attack from a man later found to be mentally unstable.
“Mental health care facilities in Ghana are few. The Accra Psychiatric Hospital, Ankaful and the Pantang hospitals are the only referral hospitals in Ghana, thereby leaving a big gap to be filled. In terms of spread and quality, Ghana is not doing well,” he pointed out.
Dr Osei noted that even those major facilities often ran out of appropriate medicine, which meant patients had to buy them elsewhere, thereby rendering mental treatment expensive.
That problem, he said, meant more mentally unstable persons would continue to roam our streets since their families may not be able to afford the cost of medication.
He stated that the Mental Health Authority, the overarching body for ensuring adequate and appropriate mental health care in this country, itself was under-resourced and currently operated mainly through the benevolence of some partners.
Dr Osei attributed the surge in the incidence of crime related to mentally challenged personalities to societal attitude toward people who suffered from mental illness.
The attitudes, he noted, included hiding mentally ill persons indoors for fear of stigmatisation, neglect, attribution of mental illness to spirituality and the general lack of concern for mentally ill persons.
The major causes of mental illness in Ghana, Dr Osei said, included depression arising out of difficulties in relationships and harsh economic conditions.
Other causes include increase in drug use, genetic factors, road traffic accidents, constriction during delivery, infection of the foetus during pregnancy and general health conditions such as tumour in the brain, hypertension and dementia.