We live in anxious times and need robust mental health

BY: K. B. Asante

In my youth, the only mental health hospital in the country sited in the wilderness near the present Catholic Cathedral was known as the Lunatic Asylum.

Normal people did not go there. No one admitted that his friend or relation was in that institution. Relations who behaved in a very unusual manner were sent to Amasaman, Shikpon Tele and other villages where they were shaved and treated with incantations and herbal concoctions. 

Even now that there is more understanding of mental health, people are reluctant to admit stresses and anxieties which go out of control and make them unwell. But we live in anxious times and I believe about half of our population could benefit from the assistance of the psychiatrist or mental health professionals.

I was lucky to realise the importance of mental health when I served in the Ghana High Commission in London in 1957. I had learnt a little about consular work at the British Consulate-General in Istanbul and I tried to establish a consular service at the High Commission. Old Panford of Ghana Police had been sent to London to deal with passports. The police were then responsible for passports, and he was a good officer eager to learn even in his old age. We enlarged the functions of the Passport Office and Ghanaians in London could visit the office with their problems.

Most of the Ghanaians who visited the office or whom we assisted were students. Many could not complete their courses, and dared not return home without the medical or law degrees for which they left home expecting to be away for four or six years without visiting home. The anxiety, loneliness, colour bar and other living problems were too much for quite a few. I was lucky partly because of my teaching experience, to recognise unusual traits of behaviour.


I was lucky to have met Dr Kelsey of 17 Highgate Avenue who helped me to make contact with Royal Maudsley Hospital. I sent Ghanaians there for help and I met some good people from whom I learnt a lot. On my first visit I was struck by the industry and dedication of a PhD student from the East. He was interviewing a patient and I left a student in the hospital while I attended to other duties. Two hours later when I returned, he was still with the patient. I was surprised and he told me that to help the patient he had to go deep and extensively into the past. Since then I have wondered whether we could give the required attention to our mental patients, seeing how few and stressed our mental health professionals are.

We need to expand and support our mental health facilities. Some of the doctors like Dr F. K. Amarquaye were my good friends and I could therefore testify to their dedicated work, as I could to the work of my late old student Dr Turkson and of Dr Asare, Prof. Adomako and others. We need more of such doctors at this time of economic anxiety and social stress.

And we the people should realise that a great deal of our mental well-being depends on ourselves. We should have ambitions and strive to achieve the highest. But we should not despair when we fall short of our expectations. Also, we should do the best for our relations and dependants but should realise that we cannot do better than our best even for our children. The latter can be the source of serious disappointment and heartbreak for many. But we should not be destroyed while we do our pleasant duty even to our children.

We live in difficult times and our minds are often the first casualties as we try to withstand and overcome the modern vicissitudes of life. The state should recognise this and establish appropriate mental health facilities. If those in mental hospitals are lunatics then we are potential lunatics if not already scarred mentally.