Introduction

CALL FOR SUPPORT TO OPERATE A TOLL FREE LINE – MENTAL HEALTH AUTHORITY
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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.

It is also meant to provide psycho-social support to all Ghanaians, considering the fact that an increasing number of people seek such psycho-social interventions but do not know where to access such help.

Background

When someone attempts or completes the act of suicide within a society, it has tragic effects on the society. Suicide has psychological, sociological, economic, family and cultural factors.

Suicide has, of late, become a common cause of death among young people in Ghana, particularly within its tertiary institutions, and the incidence is rising. For most students and young people who attempt suicide, they are actually crying for help, to end some unbearable feelings or a situation that seems intolerable at that particular period in their life. Young people easily develop suicidal thoughts when they feel trapped, confused, hopeless, helpless and distressed, and are desperate to escape from their suffering rather than actually wanting to die.

Unfortunately, the desire to escape from the suffering in order to avoid shame and disgrace is often stronger than the considerations of its outcome, and to their young minds, suicide often feels like the only way out, as all coping mechanisms at that time have broken down.

Research has shown that it is not possible to predict suicidal behavior with certainty, however it has been observed that a significant proportion of people who commit suicide communicate it to people around them. It is such communication that professionals pick and talk or counsel these distressed people out of suicide.

Our Proposal

It is towards this end that we call on you to support the Mental Health Authority (MHA) operate a toll free line to the general public as a life-saving intervention for people with suicidal ideation and other mental health conditions. The MHA has successfully negotiated to acquire a toll free number (0800-678-678) from the National Communications Authority’s Special Numbering Resources (SNR). What is left is for you to offer your side of the services free of charge to our clients. Your support to this request will go a long way to save the life of thousands of Ghanaians who would have gone ahead to complete suicide. This would be seen and understood as one of the most important CSR intervention your institution would have provided to the Ghanaian society.

Providing psycho-social support and counselling to people with suicide ideation or suicidal thoughts has recently come in as life-saving intervention to a number of people in the Ghanaian society. In April 2017, when the nation was hit by a wave of suicides with 16 cases being recorded over a 2 month period, the Mental Health Authority put out a number of helplines into the public domain.

With an average of 120 calls received on a daily basis within the two month period of crisis intervention, 4 people who were on the verge of indulging in suicidal acts received life-saving interventions through telephone contacts and eventual follow-ups.

An eventual assessment of the numerous calls we received from people with suicidal ideations showed that most of these were people who fell in the low income bracket, with several others not earning any form of income at all. There was therefore the need for the MHA to get back to these people as they had contacted us through friends and neighbours because they had no money to purchase phone credit with which they could talk to the MHA on the helplines.

This prompted the urgent need to acquire a Special Number (toll free) that will absolve the public of costs in their quest to solicit help in their life-threatening situations and also afford the MHA the opportunity to provide life-saving psycho-social support to persons who in one way or the other are contemplating taking their own lives.

Responsibility to Society

The Mental Health Authority understands the surge of suicides to be a failure of our society to support its youth by ensuring that efficient and accessible support systems are in place to help build the mental fortitude of Ghanaians, particularly the youth. A disturbing trend observed in our analysis of these cases of completed suicides was the number of females involved and the lethal methods they employed in carrying out the acts, such as hanging and throwing themselves down from heights. Studies have shown that though more females attempt suicide than males, a greater number of males tend to complete the act than females will do. This thus makes this current trend a lot more worrying and therefore the need for effective interventions to immediately stem the tide.

We are not oblivious of the fact that most institutions of higher education have guidance and counselling centres where students go to resolve problems and challenges. It is obvious, however, that these centres have not been effective or adequate in numbers. Students may also not be patronising them on account of stigma.

For most young people, suicide will follow a period of depression while for others it is an impulsive act which may be triggered by a traumatic experience. Experiences such as loneliness, feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness, depression, being jilted, failure to achieve academic goals, high levels of stress and a history of mental or physical illness may drive young people to attempt or complete suicide. It is important that as a society, we pay particular attention to young people because those who attempt suicide are more likely to finally die by their own hands, whether by intent or accident.

On a daily basis, young people in tertiary institutions are likely to feel distressed, aggrieved or depressed in response to the difficulties, disappointments and stresses that they encounter in the course of their daily lives. Persons with a history of trauma, hurts or disappointments that have gone unnoticed are likely to respond by making a suicide attempt. Young people are more likely to be overwhelmed by stressful life events.

The MHA believes that tackling the issue of suicide among the youth should be holistically looked at as a national agenda. Guidance and Counselling centres should not only be on campuses, but should be spread throughout the nation such that the youth and especially students will be able to visit such facilities at locations of their choice. Young people should be able to call up and meet with their counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists whenever they have problems to discuss with them.
It is about time we looked out for each other as a society, particularly our youth. It is obvious that the communal spirit that used to bind our people and communities and families together has disintegrated as a result of development and globalization. It is therefore our responsibility as corporates and responsible citizens to institute systems and mechanisms that will protect the lives of people within our societies and this is a responsibility of all in society.

This is why we call on you to contribute to building this fragmented society by facilitating a toll free line on your network, so that persons who need psycho-social interventions may be able to receive them at no cost to them or to the Mental Health Authority. This perhaps is the singular most crucial activity in this interventional strategy because it makes the intervention available to all who may require the services without them having to dig deep into their pockets.
Your decision to partner the MHA in realizing this dream will prop us into greater partnership which will create opportunities for collaboration. These include providing some relevant services such as stress and depression relief sessions for staff of your institution and other sessions that may go down to improve mental health in the workplace, an essential ingredient for every productive workforce.

We are ready to come in and discuss this further, and as a responsible corporate of society, we firmly believe that you will be more than ready to assist the MHA, the Health Ministry and the people of Ghana in general to achieve this feat.

About the Mental Health Authority

The Mental Health Authority is an agency established by an Act of Parliament, Mental Health Act 846 of 2012, to propose, promote and implement mental health policies and provide culturally appropriate, humane and integrated mental health care throughout Ghana.


The Authority is governed by a Mental Health Board which is appointed by the President of the Republic of Ghana and composed of a Chairman, Chief Executive and nine other members.

Ghana’s Mental Health Authority has a mandate to propose mental health policies and ensure their implementation, promote mental health and provide humane care including treatment and rehabilitation in a least restrictive environment.

It seeks to do this by ensuring a culturally appropriate, affordable, accessible, equitably distributed, integrated and specialized mental health care that will involve both the public and the private sectors.

Project Contact Persons

Principal Contact Person – Dr. Akwasi Osei – Chief Executive (0509914046)

Technical Advisor – Johnny Nyarko – ICT Personnel (020 823 4409)

Project Contact Person: – Kwaku Brobbey – Head of Communications
(020 681 4666)

Thank you.

Funding

Funding of Mental Health has always been a challenge. Ghana’s Parliament has provided in section 80 of the Act, for the establishment of the Mental Health Fund. The Board has constituted a committee and the MH Act states sources of possible funds, these include:

  • Voluntary contributions from individual organizations and the private sector.
  • Moneys approved by parliament.
  • Grants from bilateral and multilateral sources and gifts.
  • Donations and gifts.
  • Moneys from any other sources approved by the Minister responsible for finance.