Recently, I traveled with a team from Yale’s Global Health Leadership Initiative and witnessed the treatment and lack thereof, of those dealing with mental health issues in the country of Ghana. GHLI has partnered with senior health practitioners, policymakers, and health care officials for several years to assist their efforts in treating those with mental health disorders. Our team spent a majority of the time in Accra where we visited Accra Psychiatric Hospital, and met with the Ghana GHLI delegation to discuss progress made to improve mental health care.
My most memorable experience of this trip was visiting the small city of Koforidua to better understand how the mental health care system works outside of Accra. During our day there, the community psychiatric nurse scheduled many activities. We first met with the regional health director and the director of the regional hospital. We then went on home visits where we followed community outreach workers who remind patients to return to the hospital for follow up treatment including medication. We also a visited a clinic focused on child mortality, and a prayer camp. The prayer camp housed mostly mentally ill patients who were there to pray their sickness away, but they were also given medicine by the local hospital through outreach by a community psychiatric nurse.
The day was overwhelming, but also inspiring as I witnessed the passion that the mental health staff had for their work. With no additional government funding beyond their basic mandate, the staff at the regional hospital managed to find funds to create a new psychiatric ward with eighteen beds because they knew it was important. I also saw dedication of one psychiatric nurse, Akosua, who took it upon herself to start “Project Dignity,” an initiative where staff rehabilitates homeless persons with mental illness.
Discussing the challenges of improving mental health care in Ghana for the first half of the week, I could see there was a long way to go. After meeting the frontline people who were making this happen, I had a lot more hope that Ghana could achieve their goal of improving mental health care.