Mental health has for decades been low in the priority of health planners at all levels and this is well reflected in the quantity and quality of mental health services in Ghana. The needs of patients and families far outstrip the availability and accessibility of services for those with mental disorders. Ghana’s scarce mental health resources, such as mental health specialists, are largely concentrated in some states (mainly in the south) and in urban areas and a large proportion are solely in the private sector.
The story of mental health in Ghana has always been told from the darker corner of our institutional existence, yet we have always had the hope in the age-long cliché, “there is light at the end of the tunnel”, and today as we inaugurate another NGO in mental health, we see this light shine ever so bright.
Mental healthcare delivery in Ghana is undoubtedly fraught with numerous challenges, foremost among them being poor and or non-sustainable funding, the lack of adequate medications and the non-availability of psychiatrists in the country.
To compound our challenges, almost all mental health inpatient beds are located in 3 odd mental hospitals, some of which were built during colonial years with none ever seeing any major infrastructural renovation since their inception. The end result of these challenges undoubtedly has given rise to the unacceptably wide ‘treatment gap’ for mental disorders all over the country, but especially so in rural areas, the northern regions and amongst the socially disadvantaged.
The MHA is striving to curb these teeming challenges confronting mental health delivery in the country by implementing the dictates of the MH Act 2012, (Act 846). To this end, the Authority seeks to increase access to mental health care all over the nation through its focus on community care to ensure equity in the spread of facilities where mental health care can be accessed all over the country.
There is also a deliberate attempt to create awareness by educating the populace in a bid to reduce or better still eliminate discrimination and stigmatization of the mentally ill. This will also empower Ghanaians to seek mental health care when confronted with such conditions at an early stage, rather than hold on for the condition to aggravate due to the fear of stigmatization.
To achieve these and the many targets the Authority seek to attain, funding plays a very crucial role. The Authority appreciates government’s role and continuous support for mental health delivery in Ghana.
While the public services are the key providers of care for these populations, and therefore need strengthening, the NGO movement in the country has seen a steady upswing in the last two decades to fill the large gaps. NGOs are driven by a passion towards a certain cause and back it up with commitment and drive. While the reach of their work cannot parallel that of government agencies, the quality of care and their efforts in reaching out to the various stakeholders, particularly those who are discriminated against such as persons with mental disorders, gives them a distinct advantage.
Historically, NGOs have played a critical role in promoting and facilitating health and educational activities in Ghana. Prior to independence, religious bodies set up a number of educational institutions, health facilities and other charities.
These movements were often led by charismatic individuals, driven by a sense of missionary zeal. Many NGOs were born in response to major disasters and crises with the aim of providing emergency relief and rehabilitation. Since independence, there has been a meteoric rise in the profile, breadth and range of NGOs in the country.
Today, we welcome the Friends of Mental Health into the fray and trust that the leadership of this organization dwell by the inherent and intrinsic values of NGOs, which are broadly categorized as:
1. Working in Partnership,
2. Innovations in Practice and
3. Transparency in Administration.
It is our hope that the Friends of Mental Health will ensure a smooth and efficient collaboration with other stakeholders in mental health, particularly, BasicNeeds, MEHSOG, Mindfreedom, the Ghana Mental Health Association, Psychomental Health Foundation and the several NGOs who have in various ways worked with the Authority to support and promote various aspects of mental health care.
To conclude, we urge government and its agencies to take note of the huge public health implications of mental disorder and the obvious barriers in providing organized services for the mentally ill, and provide recognition and support for NGOs in mental health. Given a favorable climate, we are sure that the NGO movement in Mental Health will not be a sporadic or isolated phenomenon as it has been for some time now, but a more enduring and unified force in the realm of Mental Health in Ghana.
The Mental Health Authority (MHA), an Agency of the Ministry of Health, Ghana, is calling for support to operate a toll free line. The Authority seeks to operate the number as a 24-hour toll free line that will be providing urgent and interventional mental health support for people contemplating suicide.