Within hours of arriving in Ghana, I witnessed the widespread stigma that exists towards individuals with mental health disorders in this country. I was immediately struck by how difficult it will be to achieve the delegation’s objective of improving access to and the quality of mental health care for the Ghanaian population. However, my hesitations were quickly eased after my first day of work at Accra Psychiatric Hospital. Despite the numerous obstacles and an extreme dearth of resources, the tenacity of the mental health professionals championing this cause is truly inspirational. The fervor and passion of the community psychiatric nurses (CPNs), the front line mental health practitioners in Ghanaian communities, is infectious – literally. We just received reports from the field that former members of Psych Corps, a recently launched cadre of psychology graduates providing community-level psychosocial support in conjunction with CPNs, are applying to clinical psychology graduate programs in droves. This program holds great promise for expanding the number of mental health professionals and significantly improving the reality of mental health care on the ground. Part of my work this summer will be to construct monitoring and evaluation mechanisms in addition to formalized management protocols to ensure the sustainability of this program.
My first two weeks in Ghana have been a whirlwind of colorful fabrics, new foods, cultural differences, and local languages – and I’ve been loving every second. Ghanaians are such a welcoming people, eager to introduce me to their traditions as I begin to settle into life in Accra. I’m excited to master the tro-tro “system,” the public transportation that leaves all of Accra at my fingertips, and I have a growing affection for the Accra Black Stars, the local soccer team. I learned that responding to the constant yells of “obruni,” meaning “white person” in Twi, with “obibini,” meaning “black person,” ensures a friendship is swiftly formed. I have so much to learn and experience from Ghana and the Ghanaian people, and am looking forward to much more exploration in the coming weeks.