Depressed man sitting in a corridor

Why mental health could be the next pandemic

Mental Health is one aspect that in Ghana and most less developed countries, the mention of it makes one look out of space. I mean, the topic is easily brushed aside as if it was a joke by a kid. But it is eating deep into the core of the population and could pose the biggest threat to the fortunes of most of these countries. It is even stranger when one needs help to deal with mental health cases. The weird looks, the hissing by the people you speak your worry to them and the isolation you are likely to suffer for admitting that your mental health is deteriorating are just some of the few things that people have to deal with every day.

In their case, they are seeking help for mental health and end up getting more harm for it. People who suffer from mental health are often dealing with incidents related to their emotional, psychological, and social well-being. They thus require dedicated support, attention and the best of love and emotional, social and psychological support available. Truth is, these people end up getting far less than they expected if they do get at all.

What Happened?

A lot has been happening in Ghana and other countries where mental health is not prioritized. People have limited access to support partly due to shortages in personnel or low budgets for the sector. There is a general consensus or perhaps believe that mental health care in Ghana is a shadow of proper health care.

This “breakdown”, a term used only if one decides to be diplomatic in their description of the situation is one that has led to many deaths and that will end no sooner. Mental health care in Ghana in reality has never had its footings right at any point in time prior to its current status but in time past, the severity of the situation was only saved by the unreported numbers. That is now gone as the era of widespread internet access and social media use has made it easy for people to share about their lives.

Just this week, a video surfaced on popular social media site, Facebook about a student of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi who thought he has had enough and decided to end it all through suicide. He was fortunately saved by his colleagues who held him as he hanged dangerously over the balcony of their room. The reason for the young man’s attempted suicide is not clear yet but there are several reasons that could have prompted that action. And he could have been saved from even attempting if he had the right support and a timely one.

What Make Up Mental Health?

The WHO conceptualizes mental health as “a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community”. It further explains that mental health does not means the absence of mental disorders. Mental health is a continuous occurrence which act on an individual differently, thus people experience mental health differently. An individual’s society or background, economic and social bindings among others can influence their mental health.

Despite the fact that mental health is experienced differently by individuals, such experiences can be grouped into a number of categories.

Anxiety: a type of fear based on the thought that something bad could happen in the future. a fear of a threat of a wrong occurrence in the future. It includes things that might even be occurring at present. At least 301 million people were living with anxiety disorders in 2019 according to the WHO. Of that number, 58 million were children and adolescents.

Bipolar disorder: formerly called manic depression, bipolar disorder causes irregular shifts in a person’s mood, energy, concentration and activity levels. At least 40 million suffered bipolar disorder in 2019 according to the World Health Organization.

Depressive disorder (Depression): depressive disorder is a mental health disorder that results in the loss of mood or pleasure or interest in things for long periods of time. The things one loses interest in could be anything such as interacting with others, learning, working, and many other daily life activities. One could feel empty, sad, irritated and uneasy among other forms of restlessness when suffering from depression. At least 280 million people worldwide live with depression. A WHO report states that at least 3.8% of the total global population live with depression, 5% adults are affected. The data says women are 50% more likely to suffer depression than men and that 10% of pregnant women and those who just delivered suffer from depression.

Schizophrenia: this is a mental health disorder where people have difficulty interpreting reality. People who suffer from Schizophrenia interpret realities abnormally. They experience hallucinations, delusions and heightened disordered thinking. About one in every 300 persons suffer from Schizophrenia globally and the figure stood at 24 million in 2019.

PTSD: post-traumatic stress disorder, simply known as PTSD is a mental health disorder experienced by people who have been exposed to extreme conditions such as conflicts or war, scary events including accidents and horrific incidents such as deaths.

Others such as Eating Disorders, Disruptive behaviour and dissocial disorders, and Neurodevelopmental disorders are also part of the types of mental health disorders that people experience daily.

What Causes Mental Health Disorders?

Mental health disorders are caused by different factors but prominent among them are substance abuse such as alcohol and hard drugs and medical conditions including brain injuries and thyroid problems. Life experiences such as childhood abuse, social isolation, neglect, broken homes, bereavement, job loss or unemployment, financial crisis or debts, poverty, long-term stress, prolonged physical health conditions, trauma, racism, discrimination and stigma among others are also prominently featured causes.

Domestic violence, homelessness, relationship issues and stress at work can also highly affect ones mental health. The latter two are the ones that affect the youth especially in developing countries such as Ghana. Most of people in their adolescent age or early adulthood are very active in trying to find their life partners and the rejections that come with it can be so much for their inexperienced minds to bear. It is without compromise that people say no body grows so song that they can say they are immune to heartbreak from relationships. Yes, some people are able to deal well with heartbreaks better than others but the shocks hit everyone.

A lot of the young adults who have just got into employment often have difficulty keeping the balance between work and life. Their social life and everything around them always come bearing on them coupled with the responsibilities from work and they struggle to deal with them. Most are not even aware of what is happening to them and the majority of those who are aware have no idea of where to seek help and those who know where to get help don’t often get it because the help is just on paper or offers another level of stress when one tries to access it.

What Is The Situation In Ghana?

Ghana’s health system is not the worst in the world but its mental health system competes with the worst in the world if it is not already the worst. Ghana according to the WHO has only 39 psychiatrists as of 2022 and making that mathematics for a population of over 30 million is heartbreaking to talk about. The ration is 0.13 per 100,000 people and there are about 2.3 million Ghanaians living with mental health conditions.

There are only three government-owned psychiatric hospitals in the country; Accra Psychiatric, Ankaful and Pantang all located in the southern part of the country and specifically in Accra and Cape Coast. That leaves people in the middle and northern belts of the country unserved except for the psychiatric units at some of the hospitals.

Inadequate funding has clothed the sector for decades. It was only in 2020 that the government increased funding for mental health care to GHS15 million. Prior to that, the area had received GHS6 million or less as funding. That is not just insufficient but clearly a slap in the face of the situation and a clear understatement of the need to prioritize mental health in the country.

Aside from the low funding and the lack of facilities, those who are tasked with taking care of people at the hospitals sometimes add to the pain of these people who seek their help. This has resulted in people preferring to stay at home or seek help from religious and traditional healers instead. This is highly unreported but those who do speak out express deep pain, one that depicts the who situation that country’s approach to mental health has been. One of such similar stories was featured by the WHO as one victim from Bongo in the Upper East Region shared her pain. Most of the people who seek help from those unspecialized places end up worsening their conditions. Their cases are treated as spiritual and not mental health so they receive misplaced care and support.

What Can Be Done?

More can be done to support person’s living with mental health issues or even help stop others from falling victim of the pains of mental health. Just like there are preventive measures for many disease, there are some too for mental health.

Establish Mental Health support systems in schools. Most of the Ghanaian youth go through basic education and the government and other stakeholders can take advantage of this to prepare the young ones for what is ahead. Our young ones can be as smart as they may be but with mental health, they can’t put their smartness to use. So the government rolling out a training programme to train people in mental health issues specifically for young adults, adolescents and children would be a good ground to help man overcome their issues with mental health. It would also make mental health topic friendly to discuss and help to erode the stigma attached to it.

Increase funding for mental health care. The government can support by increasing support for mental health care in the country by increasing the budget allocated to the mental health authority for the purposes of mental health. Another option is to include mental health treatment and medicines in the National Health Insurance Scheme coverage. Cost apparently is one factor that drive people away from seeking health care so if people are made aware that they can get mental health care for free with their NHIS then it would encourage them to seek help.

Companies consider investing in the mental health of their employees. Employers can make arrangements with healthcare providers to offer mental health care services to their employees at least periodically even if not very regular. The doors can also be opened for employees to be able to walk in and consult with these providers. This will help most to be able to manage their mental health and it will in the long run improve productivity as healthy minds are assured to be effective than damaged minds.

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