Mental illness: Ghana's safety hanging in the balance

Ghanaians were full of joy when the Mental Health Act, 2012 (Act 846) was passed to enhance mental health care delivery. But, four years down the lane, it appears that the joy has been short-lived. Pulse.com.gh reporter Mildred Europa Taylor finds out why.

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When the Mental Health Act, 2012 (Act 846) was passed in 2013, doctors, nurses and Ghanaians at large expressed joy with the hope that Ghana was going to measure up with the best in the world in mental health care delivery in the next ten years.

But, four years down the lane, it appears that the joy has been short-lived, as mental health patients in the country are yet to see an improvement in their health care delivery.

Further,  Mental Health Authority,  established in 2013,  is suffering from funding challenges.

The Authority was established to initiate early intervention programmes for psychiatric care and also provide adequate resources to protect the mental health of children, youth and identified high risk groups.

But, with the latest number of crime cases which have been suspected to be associated with mental disorder, the safety of Ghanaians is hanging in the balance.

A breakdown of the following cases will attest to the fact that serious attention should be paid to mental health just like any other area of healthcare.

In May 2008, one Amadu Osman reportedly killed his brother and ate part of his limbs in Guangila in the Northen region. It is yet to be known whether Osman was in his right senses while committing the said act.

The president of Ghana,  John Mahama was nearly murdered in July 2015 when Charles Owusu, believed to be mentally unstable, walked into the President 's church with a loaded gun to allegedly shoot him. The president was however absent at the time of the incident.

Only a week ago, a man suspected to be mentally deranged killed six people including his parents at Assin Akrofuom in the Central region.

The 35-year-old man, Akwasi Ganu was reported to have murdered his mother Abena Ganu while she was eating, chopped off the head of his 65-year old father, George Ganu, killed his sister, Janice Ganu as well as, George, his four-year-old nephew.  He later proceeded to kill the landlord of the house, Kofi Tano.

The landlord's son however survived after sustaining severe injuries.

The suspect was eventually lynched to death by some young people in the area.

On the 18th of February, 2016, a man suspected to be mentally ill allegedly butchered three elderly female farmers in Jamasi, a town in the Ashanti region.

The deceased, Afia Adukuma, 63, and her sister, Yaa Nyamekye, were murdered by the man on their farm.

The third victim, Rose Akyaa, was however pronounced dead after managing to get to the hospital.

These are but a few of the many cases which are believed to be associated with mental disorder.

Of course, there may be others who have some sort of mental disorder but are not exhibiting these violent acts.

The Chief Psychiatrist of the Ghana Health Service, Dr. Akwasi Osei, in November 2015 revealed that about 2.7 million people representing 10 per cent of the population in Ghana have mental illness.

“The everyday problems we hear about such as suicide or attempted suicide, armed robbery, wife battering, grandmother boiling the grandchild in water among others: most of these, if not all of them, are really mental health issues.

“If you are not afflicted yourself, you are affected in one way or the other,” he said at a ceremony to mark World Mental Health Day last year.

According to mental health practitioner, Kobby Blay, the most prevalent health issue Ghanaians are currently facing is schizophrenia, which is a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves.

He attributed the rising case of schizophrenia to financial difficulties, loss of dear ones, alcoholism, genetic factors, and drug abuse.

He wanted  the public to look out for people who show signs of hallucination, oversleeping or insomnia; people who give disorganised statements or lack emotional expression in order to encourage them to begin early treatment.

Programmes introduced so far to curb the rate of mental cases

The Mental Health Authority in October 2015, announced that it has begun a medium to long-term development plan which will recognise, regulate and collaborate with faith-based and traditional healers who would provide psychiatric care to those who believed in divine intervention or faith healing.

In that same year, the MHA indicated that it had begun embarking on ‘Operation Clear the Streets’ to clear the streets of all mentally-challenged persons and make the streets safe for public use.

Dr. Akwasi Osei, Chief Psychiatrist had stated that out of every ten patients on the streets eight or nine will be well if sent to the hospital for treatment.

What needs to be done moving forward

There is no denying the fact that financial difficulties, lack of medication among others are the basic challenges facing the Mental Health Authority. It is therefore expected that the passage of the mental health law will help address these challenges. A Legislative Instrument (LI) which will guide the implementation of the mental health act has been fully drafted and is currently before the parliamentary sub-committee on constitutional and legal affairs to be hopefully passed into law soon.

As health facilities in Ghana which provide services for mental health practitioners are relatively inadequate, it behoves the country to step up its decentralisation policy which would take mental health care to the doorsteps of communities.

The Mental Health Authority is hopeful that introduction of district mental health sub-committees will complete the process of decentralisation.

And most significantly, Ghanaians must learn to change their perception and attitude for mental health patients, especially those treated and discharged. After all, that is the only way such patients can adapt into society upon recovery.

Besides, people who have thoughts of committing suicide, or thoughts of harming others should be checked immediately, in order to prevent any major mental health issue which can cause more grievous harm than the normal forms of crimes already known.

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