Notes from Ghana - World #mentalhealth Month 2013

7:11:00 AM

For the last two weeks, i have been in Ghana for World Mental Health month where I was speaking and performing. Before I get to my notes, I would like to thank BasicNeeds Kenya, BasicNeeds International and International Institute of Legislative Affairs for making my trip to and from Ghana a success and the Mental Health Foundation of Ghana for the invitation and Sam Doku for the amazing hospitality and not forgetting Helen for taking care of me when I got my many seizure attacks.

There were four major events that I attended and learnt different things from that I would like to share

 1. Visit to Koforidua

 Koforidua is a two hour drive away from Accra and it was the host of this year's world mental health day, Ghana. The event was graced by a chief/king, the local MP, Minister of Health and Ghana's Chief Psychiatrist. Like Kenya, scarcity of personnel in mental health is a problem. Get this, Koforidua's main psychiatrist died 4 years ago and they have been working with a visiting one, the psychiatric nurse has no acomodation so she shuttledps daily from Accra (2 hours to and fro)
 a) Unified voice - 18months ago, Ghana passed their mental health law but it is facing implementation issues and most calls by those who spoke were for the implementation of the mental health board to which the Minister promised will be done by the end of year. I loved for how the speakers felt that the board was the most important thing and each stressed on it until the minister gave in. I pray ministers from the part of Africa aren't like Kenyan ones known for lip service only. 
b) Role of tradition - The chair of the event was the regional king, and he came there with his big gold rings and traditional regalia and members of his kingdom, it was quiet a spectacle but what struck me is the inclusion and the acknowledgment that tradition and culture is strong in Ghana and the only way to create awareness and reduce stigma is through collaborative efforts with all types of leaders, that mental health promotion isn't an elite thing. In African setting, we hear a lot about witchcraft being a cause of mental health conditions and many people turning to it for a cure. I learnt in Ghana that there places called prayer camps/witch camps where those with mental health conditions are taken to be exorcised or continually fast and pray until the spirits leave. This calls for inclusive awareness and advocacy, where not just the elite in society get the info but each and every person and this can only be achieved by collaborations and inclusion of modern and traditional leaders. 

 2. Mental Health Conference 

 The conference run for three day, though I couldn't attend two afternoon sessions because of seizure attacks.
 a) Networking - I spoke on Saturday afternoon and got overwhelming responses including a request to star in an African feature film on mental health by Canadian Forensic Psychiatrist (we are still talking), to the audience being asked to nominate me for TED talks as the African mental health voice to requests of talking in Australia next year to so much I had to go hide in my room for a while because excitement is usually a trigger for my illness. 
b) Lessons - I have always known mental health is broad and the topics of discussion at the conference were diverse with speakers from all the world. Those that struck me were; - the mental well being on immigrants, Africans who move to USA or Europe for 'greener pastures'. I had never thought about this angle of mental health yet these people go through a lot. Research and policy should be done so that they don't fall through the cracks. - the Language and politics of exclusion, on how stigma works and is promoted in our everyday life from the games on our phones, the messages on our tshirts, TV adverts. It is therefore our role to pick this language and report it, there is an organization called Sane that takes reports but we need to create a local one that has the power to do something once the reports are filed. - Human rights violation in Ghana and the role of religion in mental health. How street preachers pick those roaming the streets, shave and bath them in public, hit them severally with the Bible, feed them and let them go. In prayer camps, persons with mental health conditions are left without food for days in the name of fasting so that God can hear their cries and release the spirits that torment them. I am still disturbed by this prayer camp scene and the no response from the government over this injustice. - From me, they learnt about the power and need of inclusion of persons with mental health conditions in policy and advocacy and the Ghana community during remarks agreed to raise that during their next meeting.
 c) Challenge - The conference was collaboratively organised by Ghanaians living in Australia and those on the ground, shout out to John, Sam Doku and Emma, after Sam showed them a human rights video on violations of persons with mental health conditions. In Kenya we did a human rights report after CNN's feature and recommendations were made. We didn't come up with a follow up plan, a what next plan. I was recently reading about Somalia and how families hire hyenas to bite those with mental health conditions and it heightened my challenged,I felt challenged with the wealth of experience amongst stakeholders we aren't doing enough to share ideas and progress and think a bi- annual East African Mental Health conference would be an idea. Who is up for the challenge? 

 3. Pantang Hospital visit 

Pantang Hospital is the equivalent of Mathari Hospital here in Kenya only bigger so no bed space issues but like our hospital it lacks funds. 
 a) Assessment Unit - One unit that struck me was the assessment unit where patients are taken for 72hours assessment before admission to the ward. Here they make sure the patient really has a mental health condition and celebral malaria or any other illness that may have symptoms like a mental health condition but isn't. Patients are also checked if they have other ailments that need to be treated alongside their mental health conditions before admission. 
 b) Investment - The walls, the water, unfinished projects, the list goes on and on and resounds the Kenyan one. Hospitals have a role they play in mental health chain and as much as we are advocating for community mental health, we should not neglect them.

 4. BasicNeeds Ghana Darbur 

 A darbur is a community gathering and Basic needs Ghana organized theirs a week after the conference. The darbur included song and dance, a play on epilepsy, first aid and stigma, several talks to the community about how to take care of their old as this year's theme was on the aged. To me it was the best way to end my mission in Ghana. We can have all these celebrations, invite all these fancy people with amazing titles but if we don't take the message down to the people in a way they understand, we labor in vain.  

Some media coverage of the trip 

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  1. This is such a wonderful advocacy! I am very proud of you champion!!! #mhke