Residents' Voices

A reflection on Ghana’s mental health system

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In Ghana, psychiatric services are often delivered using the community mental health model, in which many patients are visited in their homes. One morning, we went to a prayer camp to see if there were any individuals who would benefit from psychiatric services. There were no cases that day, but during the visit I sat under a tree where a few years before it was not uncommon to find a person who was psychotic or agitated chained to the tree. Several years of outreach by the local nurses has resulted in the camp leaders better recognizing mental illness early and contacting the nurses, as opposed to locking a person in chains for an extended period.

On one occasion, we answered a crisis call where a person experiencing a psychotic episode had locked himself in his house. The team talked with the individual through a locked screen door for 30 minutes, after which he eventually came out of the home to speak with us. A few days later, the patient accepted fluphenazine decanoate injection at his home. Two weeks later, he came to the outpatient clinic to continue treatment. Four months later, the patient was still in treatment and had started an apprenticeship for repairing cars.

As I was walking out of the hospital on my last day, I was called back to see a woman with a seizure who had been brought to the hospital. Unfortunately, there was no more diazepam in stock with which to treat her. This event highlighted the lack of resources available in this setting.

3 Take-home messages

My experience at both hospitals led me to reflect on 3 important factors impacting the mental health system in Ghana:

Family support. For at least 80% of appointments, patients were accompanied by family members or friends. The family hierarchy is still dominant in the Ghanaian culture, and clinicians often need the buy-in of the family, especially when financial support is required. More often than not, families enhanced patients’ treatment, but in some instances, they were a barrier.

Continue to: The types of cases

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