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In Ghana, between 85-98% of people experiencing mental health conditions in the country cannot access the treatment they need due to a lack of service provision and trained mental health professionals, inaccessible services and the stigma surrounding mental health.
As we mark this year’s World Mental Health Day, we take a look at how our four-year UK aid-funded disability programme, Ghana Somubi Dwumadie (Ghana Participation Programme), promotes the rights and wellbeing of people with disabilities, including people with mental health conditions.
The programme provides grants to civil society organisations to address stigma and discrimination towards people with disabilities and mental health conditions.
One of these organisations is Songtaba, a women’s rights organisation committed to improving the lives of vulnerable and excluded women. Songtaba has been supporting women accused of witchcraft in the Northern and Northeast regions in Ghana as part of the grants support, including enhanced access to healthcare, and pressing for policy-level and legislative change to prevent witchcraft accusations being made.
They have also provided training on mental health and psychosocial support skills for healthcare workers.
“One session was on the psychosocial needs of our clients, and how we can improve their mental health”, says Olivia Konadu Owusu, a mental health nurse in Tamale, the capital city of the Northern region of Ghana, who has participated in Songtaba’s training.
“There was also a training on how to care for those who are put in the so-called alleged witches’ camps. Their main focus is on improving mental health care for all women, most especially the alleged witches. We have a lot of success stories here.”
The 34-year-old, who has been practicing for eight years, was inspired to work as a mental health nurse after seeing mental health patients in her community with little help and support. She believes there is still a lot of stigma attached to mental health issues, and discrimination is common.
“One of the biggest difficulties I face whilst doing my job is the perception of those with poor mental health.”
“There was one woman who used to suffer from bipolar, but through Songtaba’s support the woman is now okay, and even the family have come back for her and she’s currently doing very well.”
The Gub Kati Mali self-help group in the Zabsugu District of Northern Ghana is another organisation that Ghana Somubi Dwumadie has supported through their consortium partner BasicNeeds-Ghana. The self-help sessions take place once a month and provide those with disabilities or poor mental health a safe environment for peer support, free from stigma and discrimination.
The group’s organiser, Rachia Jabdeen, has a mental health condition and has found the self-help group a useful forum where she can connect with other members of her community who face similar struggles.
Rachia says many members of the group experience seizures: “They are usually thought of as spirits”, she explains.
“I’ve had a lot of benefit from this group. My condition has improved and I feel much, much better.”
“There are people in this group who previously would not mingle with others in the community as a result of their condition.”
Ghana Somubi Dwumadie has trained Rachia in conflict management, which she says is vital in keeping the group running harmoniously. She has also been involved in meetings with the district authority, where she has been able to discuss her needs and concerns with community leaders.
The programme also provides training for community volunteers, who constitute an integral part of on-going mental health interventions outside the formal health system. The volunteers are members of the community who are passionate about supporting people with mental health conditions.
They have had a significant impact in Ghana, changing people’s perceptions of mental health conditions, contributing to stigma reduction, and reaching nearly 17,000 people in 2022 alone.
During Covid-19, the volunteers were provided with equipment and taught about how to protect themselves so that they were able continue with their visits.
“It was really important to be able to meet up during the pandemic.”
“The impact of that was great,” says Rachia.
She also highlights there are still many barriers to accessing mental health support, and that many doctors do not take mental health conditions as seriously as physical conditions.
“This group has given me the confidence to be able to talk and discuss my rights. I hope the group continues.”
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