Mental Health in Ghana


Of the many Ghanaian and Nigerian rivalries, one field Nigeria has an incontrovertible edge in is literature. I’m no literary critic; I haven’t read anywhere near enough books to make educated comparisons, but many Nigerian authors have gained international acclaim, something only an elite clique of Ghanaian writers have been able to do.

Photo Credit: New Times

Among the few Ghanaian writers to have an international following is Ayi Kwei Armah, best known for his 1968 novel: The Beautyful Ones are not yet Born (no typo). Also popular is
‘Fragments’, a novel about a Ghanaian returnee from the USA who snaps under the pressure of expectation from his family and society at large. In one of the subplots of the novel, the man, Baako, has a fling with his Puerto Rican psychiatrist and they travel across the country with her money.

This left me with two questions. One: what kind of woman will take a man on a safari with no commitment at all? Two:
who will go out with a mentally unstable person? I still ask myself the first question because it’s legitimate. The answer to the second question is me, you, you and yes, even you. One out of every four people in the world will suffer from a mental or neurological problem sometime in their life. If that’s not an epidemic, I don’t know what is. Even without this statistic putting a lot of things in perspective, my initial bigotry can hardly be pardoned.

As in most things, my perception about mental illness grew out of the environment I was born into. In local movies, drama and anecdotes, mental illness is portrayed as a curse: a punitive affliction for a person’s wrongdoing or the handiwork of a sworn-enemy who has resorted to supernatural means. I was taught that I had nothing to fear as long as I remained a good christian, did no wrong to anyone and stayed away from drugs. ‘Mad’ men roving the streets of Accra naked is such a common sight that I think nothing of seeing 2-3 a day. If anything unsettles me, it’s a woman in the same situation (that’s become pretty common too).

I’ve heard a lot about the stigma people living with HIV face, and it’s terrible, but mental illness has been around for as long as mankind has existed and the stigma is still there. While a lot of foundations are trying to correct the stereotypes, the entertainment industry is doing the opposite. Movie after movie about ‘mad’ serial killers are so popular that when a serial killer is arrested in real life, s/he is almost expected to plead insanity. The Ghanaian rapper, Kwawkese, has adopted the persona of a mentally ill person, and he’s been acting out all the stereotypes we have about people affected with it. The words ‘mad’, ‘retard’, and ‘crazy’ are now politically incorrect, but that hasn’t kept them from being some of the first words people call each other in a fight. The word ‘special’, which was meant to replace such derogatory words, has become a derogatory word in its own right.

One thing that is for certain is that we can no longer ignore this epidemic. Mental illness is becoming more and more pervasive, with one of the most common forms being depression. Mental health staff and treatment are in dangerously short supply. Couple that with the unfortunate reluctance of people to get treatment for their relatives or themselves and we have a real problem on our hands.

So what do we do? We may not have all the answers, but if we keep asking the right questions, someday, someone, somehow will figure it out.

Have a great week.

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Jerome Kuseh

Accountant | Economist-in-Training | Private Investor
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