We call it “susu” in Ewe, “adwini” in Twi, “dwemo” in Ga and “kokoluwa” in Hausa – but at the end, it all comes down to the same – 1.5 kilogrammes of tissue with special cells which we call “neurons”: Tbrain.
Your stomach digests food, your lungs inhale air, your heart pumps blood – but what does your brain do? Does it make you walk? Does it make you happy, angry, and sad? Does it work during the night and make you dream? Does it regulate your heart? Does it make you think? The brain makes all of the above and in fact, it makes you YOU.
With over hundred billions of neurons and trillions of connections between all neurons, it is one of the most complicated tissues in your body, which does not stop developing till the early twenties. For that reason, it is important to take care of your brain – you are in charge to keep it healthy!
Eat healthy food, increase your physical and physiological well-being, exercise, get enough rest, lower levels of stress, do not do drugs including alcohol, avoiding injuries by shaking your children or hitting somebody on the head are just few examples of how to take care of “Command Central”.
The brain can be sick too
As any other organ in your body, your brain can get sick, too. It can get hurt. When your stomach/intestine is sick, you run. When your lungs are sick, you cough. But how do you know that your brain is sick? Well, as you can imagine, there is no easy answer. Depending on the affected brain area, people might have seizures, hear voices, feel sad all the time, have bad memory, be addicted to drugs and so on.
One of the most important things is to understand that none of the above —mentioned conditions is contagious. Yes, you are right – it is okay to take care of mentally ill people, touch them, talk with them and not about them and to treat them with love and compassion. Mentally ill people are not different from physically challenged people and as you do not stigmatise the latter, you do not laugh about people with a hurting brain. Moreover, it is important to understand that you need medical help when your brain gets sick – do not delay seeing a doctor or a mental health nurse in order to get treatment: The longer you wait, the worse the outcome might be. And be patient: It can take a long time to find the right treatment strategy for you. But this should not be a real surprise to you given the complexity of the brain.
Education on the brain
Lastly, spread this word. As long as people do not know about the brain, they will not be able to attribute mental illness to this organ. Even though the journey to reduce stigma by education might be long and tough, it is worth going – slowly but surely people will understand that prevention is better than treatment, even from a financial aspect.
In an effort to start this journey, members of the German non-governmental organisation (NGO) “On The Move e.V.”, the South African NGO “STAESA”, and Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School faculty from Boston, MA, USA taught pupils in schools, community members in churches, chiefs and queens and hospital staff for three weeks in September in Ketu South Municipal, Volta Region and Accra. The initiative, called “Brain Awareness Week”, was held in collaboration with the Ketu South Municipality Health Directorate and consisted of formal lectures, dialogues, hands-on experiences, and radio programmes.
Given the success and the overall positive feedback of this year’s initiative, the programme chairs (On The Move e.V./STAESA) are already thinking about next year’s project and how to make the efforts sustainable. For now, the Ketu South Municipal Health Directorate is in charge of the educational material that were left behind and the programmes for the schools and in the communities. There is one additional point which must be made: Teaching people about the brain can eventually raise their awareness. However, the more aware people are, the more likely they are to seek medical treatment.
The Ghanaian health system must be ready to receive these people and to spend money on mental health education, not just for the community but also for medical health professionals, infrastructure, and treatment. Every Ghanaian should be able to find mental help.