International Mental Health Day: Rewind. Repeat. Play. Stop.

Last week, Ghana commemorated International Mental Health day on October 10th.

By the close of the day, parade floats that had been driven through the main streets of Accra were quietly parked; podiums were taken down; advocates were appeased for the moment; and few good stories were filed.

That’s pretty much how it goes in most countries, and ever since the Ghanaian government completed a promising Mental Health Bill in 2006, similar events have taken place each year.

Very similar, in fact.

Here’s an article from this year.
Here’s another from 2010.

Aside from the allotted news coverage for this special day and appeals to the Government to move faster, gentle reminders in the local news make up mental health coverage the rest of the year.

Here’s a recent reminder. (Warning: disturbing image)
Here’s another one. (Warning: graphic descriptions)

So, here’s a little follow from last week.

Mental Health day is recognized internationally and reminds participating Governments, advocates and citizens about an issue that can get lost in the vacuum of rights violations and ineffective policies of equal importance in developed and developing nations.

That isn’t the most galvanizing statement, mind you, but those are the facts.

Then there are the figures.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 2 million Ghanaians are suffering from moderate to mild mental disorders.

Further to that: 650,000 people in Ghana are suffering from severe mental disorders.

Advocates at Basic Needs Ghana – an international NGO that advocates for the rights of the mentally ill in the country – are encourage by what’s happening in Ghana.

According to Peter Yaro, the Executive Director: “Ghana has come a long way from having lunatic asylums that just arrested people who exhibited mental illness and kept them in hospitals with minimal management, to [now having] a level where it is taught that mental health should be integrated into the general health system.”

But the issues remain. Here they are:

  • The Mental Health bill completed in 2006 has not been passed.
  • There are still stigmas around mental health.
  • There are not enough facilities in the country. (There are only three in the entire country, in fact).

On October 10th, local media reported that Ghana’s minister of health, Mr. Joseph Yieleh Chireh said that Government has made mental health one of its priorities. He explained that the Bill had already gone through the second reading in Parliament and there was every indication that it would be passed by the end of the year.

Mr. Yieleh Chireh assures Ghanaians that the passage of the bill was imminent. After that new policy based on the new Act would need to be drawn and a strategic plan to execute the policy put in place.

Of all this however, no timeline was made available about when the bill would be passed.

Full stop.

There is an air of change here in Ghana, but it doesn’t begin and end on Mental Health Day. Not-so-sexy follows to the issue certainly have a role to play as well.

According to Yaro, though there are a few well-managed community psychiatric units dotted around the country in various regional hospitals and district hospitals, these services are largely concentrated in the mental health hospitals

And what’s happening as you read this post?

“Right now, many people cannot access mental health services.”

Right now – and until this bill is passed – millions of Ghanians cannot access mental health services, because of stigma, because of a lack of awareness about what mental illness is and, in many cases, because the nearest specialist is on the other side of the country.

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