In Ghana we currently operate in two areas: the rural northern regions (of Tamale, Upper East, and Upper West) and Accra, the capital city in the south.
As in many countries mental health care in Ghana is based in the south and the psychiatric service in the north is almost non-existent. There are only a few beds in regional hospitals but no psychiatrists to treat the patients and only a few psychiatric nurses to care for them. Any serious cases have to be sent to the hospital in Accra.
The few facilities that are available in the North are woefully inadequate. The regional psychiatric unit for Wa region is based in a small part of the laundry of Wa Regional hospital. These attract mentally ill patients not just from Wa region but from surrounding regions that have no psychiatric staff.
The unit attends to between 20 to 50 people a day but on market days it can be many more than this. The problem has been made worse by the creation of a HIV/AIDS testing unit which is sharing the space with the psychiatric unit. Because of the money poured into HIV/AIDS this facility is rapidly growing and encroaching on the psychiatric unit, slowly forcing it out of the hospital.
In the south of Ghana there are only 4 psychiatrists working in the public sector. They are horribly overstretched so visits to the north to hold mental health camps are almost impossible. The Community Psychiatric Nurses that BasicNeeds works with in Accra cannot diagnose patients so this means that mentally ill people there have to wait to be seen by a psychiatrist.
Dr. Akwesi Osei the Chief Psychiatrist says, “BasicNeeds is only recycling the few staff we have.” The limited resources in Ghana can nowhere near meet the need being placed on them and are near to breaking point.
Few people want to train to take up a position in the mental health sector because of the stigma attached to the job. Those who do train tend to move abroad to work for better pay and opportunities.
In Accra, there is an over-reliance on psychiatric hospitals to treat mentally ill people, and these are relied on to deliver services for the whole country.
As witnessed and described by a member of our staff the conditions at the Accra Psychiatric Hospital are far from ideal.
“I was taken to the women’s ward. This was a compound with a single structure in it giving some shade and this doubled as the living area. There were only four dormitories for the 165 female patients. This meant some people had to sleep on the floor. There were only 3 nurses for all these people. Most of the patients in the compound were either naked or half naked with ripped and tattered clothing, looking dispirited and disorderly with depressed faces.”
“Even though the ward had been scrubbed thoroughly every morning by the patients with disinfectant, the overwhelming, disgusting stench told its own story about what regularly occurs here.”
“I almost shed a tear when I saw the small 20 by 25 feet dormitory that 40 patients were forced to share. There weren’t any toilet facilities in it so the patients just had to defecate on the ground and sleep in it until the next morning. The nurse told me that one night, a patient delivered a baby in the room, on the floor amongst the filth. I couldn’t believe that a child had been born in such conditions.”
One of the main problems facing our programmes in Ghana is the lack of medication. Though some medication is free from the Ghana Health Service, it is only first generation psychotropic drugs. These seem to be ineffective in treating mental illnesses. Better, more effective, modern drugs are available on the open market but these are very expensive.
In Ghana, many mentally ill people are abandoned by their families and are left destitute and homeless. As a result, in the north, we’ve created two “Ti Sampa” (meaning “Our Place” in the local dialect), which are drop-in centres for mentally ill people. One is in Tamale and the other in Wa. Here they can meet and receive effective treatment, participate in recreational activities and benefit from some food and shelter in a safe environment.
There is also a great need in Ghana to provide opportunities for mentally ill people to access jobs. In Northern Ghana we have created a horticultural project. Here mentally ill people learn gardening skills, these skills being in great demand in the country. One man, affectionately known as Senior, was living in a grave yard until he was found by BasicNeeds. Now, through the horticultural project, he has been reunited with his family after many years. He said, “I have become a human being once again…I brought some cabbage home for the family…this would have been unthinkable before my treatment.”
Recently the Regional Director of Agriculture visited the Tin Laayisi Horticulture Project at Datoyili near Tamale. He was impressed to see such a project especially managed by stabilised mentally ill people. He offered support by providing an Agricultural Field Technical Officer from his department to assist the workers to prepare compost for organic farming.
Lots of other charities and organisations already work in Ghana so we have to work to break down the stereotypes surrounding our organisation. Community leaders have had bad experiences with charities that have promised them the world but have not fulfilled their promises.
People in Accra are used to aid agencies arriving and doling out cash and other goods. Mentally ill people are often upset when they find out that this is not what they receive from us because they are expecting a quick and tangible short-term solution to their problems. Once we convince mentally ill people and their communities of our credentials and that we are there to change their lives forever, mentally ill people are glad that we don’t spend our time offering quick handouts.
So far we have helped over 17,500 mentally ill people throughout Ghana secure their basic rights and a life they can be proud of.
As more and more mentally ill people and people suffering epilepsy get better they quickly form groups who over the last five years have grown stronger. With support from Comic Relief, BasicNeeds is supporting the emerging groups of mentally ill people to create a national user association known as "Mental health Society of Ghana (MEHSOG)". In 2008 executive members were elected and the constitution finalised. BasicNeeds will support the development of the executive members and continue to provide advocacy training for members of Self Help Groups across Ghana enabling mentally ill people to advocate for mental health services in or close to their community.
Essential Skills for mental health care’ manual is a manual that helps health professionals quickly and safely diagnose and treat the most serious mental illnesses in Sub-Sahara Africa.
It has been developed by Dr. Jim Crabb and Emma Razi with local mental health workers to ensure the content is culturally and practically relevant. Copies are currently being distributed free of charge to health workers in Ghana. Click here to download.
Ghana’s quarterly magazine ‘Share-Learn-Share’
sharing the experiences and lessons of BasicNeeds’ operations in (1.48MB).
We Count nine  Out! This edition of We Count magazine features four stories of individuals from Ghana, each of whom suffered one form of mental illness or the other. These individuals were abused and neglected at the hands of their families and community members. However, with the intervention of BasicNeeds Ghana, these individuals now have a new hope of life to live. Also included in this edition is the story of a woman who suffers from very severe migraine. We hope you will find this edition interesting reading. Please kindly disseminate this rich document as widely as possible and endeavour to send feedback or any comments to: Peter Yaro or Alando Bernard. Click here to download (872 KB).
an economic revival for people with mental illness or epilepsy
Book tracks the changes in a European Union funded project of
‘Ensuring secure livelihoods for poor people with mental illness and epilepsy,
and their carers in Ghana’ made in the lives of people with mental illness or
epilepsy and their families in four regions of Ghana. The project lasted three
and a half years and directly supported 16, 203 project participants to engage
in various micro-enterprise activities and vocational skills acquisition. The
project ended in mid-2010.
BasicNeeds Ghana launches a picture of Mental Health in Ghana, As part of efforts to raise awareness on the hidden realities of the experiences and living conditions of most people with mental disorders and epilepsy in Ghana, BasicNeeds Ghana launched a photo book and a photo documentary entitled ‘Ghana – a picture of mental health’(2.3MB).
Peter Yaro Programme Manager
House No. 23, Fuo Residential Area, Nr. Modern City Lodge, P. O. Box TL 1140, Tamale, Ghana
Tel: +233 71 23566 Fax: +233 71 24245
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