Mental Health: A Neglected Health Sector?

By Rosemary Twum

Mental health is the most neglected health sector and the least explored in the country.

It is the least prioritized by the government of Ghana due to the fact that there has been little or no awareness created on mental disorder.This is also due to the fact that the media has also failed in drawing attention towards the activities and plights of the mental health sector like they do to the other health sectorsand as such the government does not allocate enough funds for the running of mental institutions in the country. Due to this unawareness and inadequate education on mental disorder, people suffering from it are widely stigmatized. Stigmatization has prevented people from openly associating themselves with people believed to be dealing with mental health issues or outwardly seeking medical assistance for fear of being ridiculed or shunned in society.

The media has also failed in drawing attention towards the activities and plights of the mental health sector like they do to the other health sectors.

In 2018, Ghana Health Service (GHS) annual report, an estimate of 42% of Ghanaians have a psychological disorder. Recent statistics have indicated that half of all mental illness begin at the age of 14, with most going undetected. Studies have indicated that depression is the third leading cause of mental disorder among adolescents with suicide being the second leading causes of death.

In the course of writing this feature, I went on the streets to ask people whether they are suffering from any form of mental health illness. About 95% of them said no they aren’t and that maybe due to the fact that majority of people have limited mental health illness to the naked and filthy men and women of the streets of Accra or the confined patients in the psychiatric hospitals.

Worse off, the country has only three (3) psychiatric hospitals and the first being the Accra Psychiatric Hospital, which has not undergone any major renovation since moving to their present location in 1904.The hospital was built with the capacity to hold about 600 patients at a given time. The hospital which was first intended for criminals due to the overcrowding at the prison still has prison bars in the wards. The Accra Psychiatric Hospital, the first and biggest among the three is located at Accra with the Pantang hospital and Ankarful mental hospital located in Accra and Cape Coast respectively with a combined total of 1322 beds. The Accra Psychiatric hospital especially is overcrowded with patients, with non-emergency cases been turned away.

The former minister of health, Alex Segbefia in a ceremony at Accra made it known that government will be providing two new psychiatric hospitals with one in Tamale and the other in Kumasi to reduce the burden of the three hospitals. Fingers are crossed hoping the current government fulfils this promise.

Family members of detained patients most often than not abandon their relatives in the hospital even after they’ve fully recovered. The hospital would have no choice but to take care of these abandoned patients since they can’t turn their backs on them. These people most often do not have a recollection of their previous lives led prior to their commitment.

The hospitals also do not have enough doctors to care for the patients in addition to the fact that mental health treatment and drugs is not covered by the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).

Mental health is a serious issue and we all have to contribute our quota to ensure that people suffering from this condition receive the treatment they need and also they be treated as equals and not shamed in society. Let’s remember they are humans like us and it could be us in the future. I hope the government will prioritize mental health in this country as it does to the other health sectors.

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