WITH THE passage of Ghana’s Mental Health Act in 2012, one would have thought that people with mental health issues would be treated with the utmost respect and dignity as stipulated in Act 846 of the Mental Health Law.
Unfortunately, the situation has not changed for the mentally-ill patients in our part of the world.
Again, the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Three seeks to promote healthy lifestyles and ensure well-being for all persons without discrimination.
This clearly places emphasis on the need to also consider mentally-ill persons when it comes to the issues of health yet they are being marginalised in Africa. Ghana cannot be exempted from this. For instance, available statistics indicate that Ghana has a treatment gap of about 98%.
It is very obvious that the government alone cannot address the health needs of mental patients in Ghana and would, therefore, need the support from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), development partners, corporate bodies and the individuals to support.
It is, however, very regrettable to note that only a few of the NGOs in Ghana are into supporting mentally-ill patients. Notable among them is the Basic Needs Ghana, which has its head office in Tamale and its sub-offices in Accra and Bolgatanga and works through partners in delivering its Mental Health and Development Model in nine regions of Ghana, including the Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions.
As a mental health and development advocacy organisation whose core target is men and women with mental disorders, their family members and the communities in which they live, the purpose of Basic Needs Ghana is “to enable poor people with mental disorders to live and work successfully in their communities”.
One of the recent interventions that was implemented by Basic Needs Ghana in the Upper East Region and has brought smiles and excitement to persons affected with mental disorders in the region is the ‘Building productive skills of women, men and youth affected by mental disorders in northern Ghana for enhanced recovery and income project’.
Basic Needs-Ghana, in the year 2016, with funding from the Korean International Development Corporation Agency (KOICA), implemented the one-year project in nine districts in the region, namely the Kassena-Nankana West, Bolgatanga Municipal, Kassena -Nankana Municipal, Bawku Municipal, Builsa North, Binduri, Bawku West, Talensi and the Bongo districts.
The project intervention, which sought to support poor and vulnerable persons living with mental illness or epilepsy and their caregivers with sustainable livelihood ventures to enable them to attain food and income security, includes dry season gardening, skills training, particularly tailoring and dressmaking, and small ruminant support.
Tailoring/dressmaking and sewing machine support
The Project paid special attention to stable mental patients who were into tailoring and dressmaking but could not complete due to their conditions by training a total number of 93 made up of 20 males and 73 females in dressmaking.
Before that, the Project organised training programme for the master artisans to train the beneficiaries whom the project provided with sewing machines free of charge for the training. Besides, the Project also paid GHȼ300.00 for each of the beneficiaries to the master artisans as fees for the training, bringing the total cost of the 93 beneficiaries to GHȼ 279,000.00.
The Project Officer of Basic Needs Ghana, Mr Bernard Azuure, explained that the training was designed purposely to equip the master artisans with the requisite knowledge and skills on common mental disorders or epilepsy, causes, signs and symptoms and management of these conditions so as to ensure that the beneficiaries who are undergoing the apprenticeship training are not discriminated or stigmatized against by their colleague apprentices in the shops where they are being trained.
In addition to the above support, during the period under review the project further conducted vigorous consultation and needs assessment exercise in the Bolgatanga Municipality, Talensi and Bongo districts to assess the needs of the various group members and ascertain those who were interested in going into livestock rearing.
Upon further assessment, Basic Needs-Ghana, with funding from KOICA, responded to this request by facilitating the purchase of 124 animals for the 62 beneficiaries, with each of them taking two female goats, and receiving advice from veterinary officers. Beneficiaries were encouraged to vaccinate their animals against diseases to prevent death, which most of them complied with.
Dry season gardening support
Furthermore, the Project also provided support to 28 beneficiaries, including service users and caregivers, all comprising 13 males and 15 females, at the Baare community in the Talensi District of the region to go into dry season gardening with the aim of empowering them to undertake vegetable gardening as a means of improving upon their nutritional status and income generation activities as well as occupational therapy.
They were also provided with two hand-dug wells fitted with rope pumps to provide water for irrigation of the vegetable infield as well as supplied with vegetable seeds, watering cans, wellington boots, and wheel burrows among others to cultivate vegetables, including okra, pepper, tomatoes, kenaf and bean leaves.
After seven months of the implementation of the interventions, the staff of Basic Needs Ghana, including some journalists, undertook a monitoring visit to the garden at Baare community to assess the impact of the project and saw bumper harvests of vegetables, including okra, pepper, tomatoes, kenaf and bean leaves harvested by many of the beneficiaries.
“I make at least GHȼ 35.00 every month from the sale of the okra and the leafy vegetables I often harvest from my field. I can now buy medicines for my daughter every month. I also prepare fresh vegetable sauce which we enjoy with ‘TZ’ meals all the time,” Mr Mammyoya Baan, a caregiver of Lahare Buliktee remarked.
It was established that averagely, a beneficiary harvested at least two buckets of okra within every three days and sold each for fifteen Ghana cedis (GHȼ 15.00). This implies that a beneficiary could make at least Thirty Ghana cedis (GHȼ 30.00) every three days and a total of nine hundred Ghana cedis (GHȼ 900.00) every month for at least three months.
In effect, the twenty-eight beneficiaries made an average of GHȼ 25,200.00 in a month from the sale of vegetables produced in their fields. This was very significant and went a long way to improve their socio-economic status and general wellbeing.
Additionally, the Project has equipped the master artisans with knowledge on common mental disorders and epilepsy as well as the causes and management of persons living with such disorders, thereby reducing discrimination and stigmatization against persons suffering from mental health.
Besides, it has also brought smiles and excitement on the faces of service users and their care givers, who hitherto did not have the capacity to engage in any skills training. In fact, it was amazing to this writer to see many of the stable mental ill patients who have become master artisans through the skill training they received from the project and are now offering training to other apprentices and generating income to support themselves and their families.
In conclusion even though the one-year implementation period of the ‘Building productive skills of women, men and youth affected by mental disorders in northern Ghana for enhanced recovery and income Project’ has been very short, its impact has been very tremendous, considering the above-mentioned benefits.
However, considering the significant number of persons with mental disorders in the country, there is the urgent need for more development partners to support Basic Needs Ghana to help tackle the menace.