BasicNeeds Ghana and Mental Health Society of Ghana partnered the Ghana Health Services to bring issues about mental illness closer to traditional rulers and to stir up communal support for persons with mental disorders and epilepsy.
The training was in response to the priority needs of the UKAID funded project being implemented by the two nongovernmental organisations to support government to establish a strong national mental health system.
Facilitating the workshop in Abura, Mr Humphrey Kofie, Executive Secretary of MEHSOG, said the project aims to help government respond ‘effectively and efficiently’ to the mental health needs of Ghanaians.
Mental health patients, he said, were faced with so many challenges in the society including stigmatisation, abuse, neglect and lack of proper structures and systems to sufficiently protect their rights.
He reminded traditional authorities of their powerful role as community leaders to help defend the rights of persons with mental illness and galvanise support of community members to help in the upkeep of patients.
‘Avoid using derogatory words when addressing persons with mental health disorders as this can deepen stigmatisation, stereotypes and make those patients who are recovering relapse,’ he said.
Participants were taken through Ghana’s Mental Health Act which grossly frowns on discrimination, torture and abuse of persons with mental disorders.
Mr Humphrey said persons with mental problems could engage in labour, occupational therapy like basket weaving but should not be forced into labour, because it is an offence under law.
‘Chaining and secluding is illegal and action can be brought against offenders, they can do some occupational therapy, but it is illegal to let them do forced labour,’ he said.
Nana Monku Eku VIII, Chief of Ansafona, expressed worry about the state of mental health in Abura-Asebu-Kwamankese District and how the many of the youth have taken into alcohol and suffered depression.
‘I realise that the young who should have been more productive rather find themselves to be unproductive due to various vices like drug addiction and excessive alcoholism and in no time it sends them into depression and then they start having mental disorders,’ he said.
He said because of excessive alcoholism and drug addiction the young have become irresponsible parents to their children who also become irresponsible when they grow and the cycle goes on.
‘We have mounted on a lot of education in conjunction with other stakeholders, like the Imams and the churches to educate the youth to go back to our formal social values and to also encourage them to be productive, by taking advantage of government interventions in agriculture.’
Nana Eku VII also expressed worry that several people with mental disorders who visit health centres could not access medications due to poverty.
‘So it is incumbent on the central government to ensure the continuous supply of medication and rehabilitation of mental health patients for rapid recovery,’ he added, and called for holistic approach to dealing with mental health conditions in the country.
He urged government to consider raising national budget allocation for mental disorder as it was currently negligible.
This, he said, leads mental health patients to go back to prayer camps and be chained by their ‘so-called healers’ of prophets and prophetesses who have answers to every disease even including mental disorder.
‘In order to free the patient from going to the prayer camps the central government should ensure the continuous supply of medications so that they can assess it,’ he added.
Nana Eku VIII commended BasicNeeds and MEHSOG for conducting training for traditional rulers on mental issues and fundamental rights pertaining to persons with mental illness.
He also expressed commitment to champion mental issues during traditional functions to deepen public understanding on mental disorders.
He said: ‘With the kind of enlightenment and education we have had from this programme, I am now in a better position to educate the public on the causes and treatment of mental disorders.
‘Now I am even more interested in the preventive aspect of mental disorder than the curative because at the end of the day preventive is less costly as compared to curative.
‘So, not only am I prepared, but I am positioned well because now I have the knowledge to educate them at durbars, churches and everywhere that the forum provides an opportunity even including wedding ceremonies.
‘I am also going to join hands with the Christian communities, Muslim community so that at any forum our Imams, chiefs and queen mothers should use it to educate our youth and especially our queen mothers to educate the girl child to refrain from early sex so that they do not fall victims social delinquents.’
By D.I. Laary, GNA