The World Mental Health Day, which occurs on October 10 each year, is a day set aside by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to create awareness, promote mental health and well-being and to reduce stigma and to realise human rights of people with mental health conditions. This year's global theme was "Working Together to Prevent Suicide" – the adapted theme for celebrations in Ghana was "Working Together to Prevent Suicide – A Call for National Action". The week-long celebration was marked by an active involvement and participation of persons with lived experience of mental illness. Staff of BasicNeeds-Ghana, member organisations of the Mental Health Alliance as well as persons with lived experience and care-givers granted interviews radio and television outlets around the country to speak to the issue of suicide prevention in Ghana.
The Alliance for Mental Health and Development issued a press statement on October 10. It noted that limited information, stigma and socio-cultural taboos and values that continue to prevent open and informed discourse on suicide and mental health in general. The statement further affirmed the impact of suicide on individuals and families by the act itself and the loss endured by survivors, relatives and families, friends and the community. It concluded by calling on the government to urgently de-criminalise suicide attempts and, in its place, empower the state agencies, particularly the Mental Health Authority of Ghana, Ghana Health Service, the Department of Social Welfare and others to make comprehensive psychological support available at all levels of our health system and in educational institutions.
The main event of the week-long celebration was the live expert panel discussion, which was aired live on GTV, TV3 Joy FM and Uniiq FM. The expert discussion, which was highly patronised, was attended by a cross-section of the general public including persons with lived experience of mental health conditions and other persons with disability, mental health professionals, civil society actors, students, labour unions, media practitioners, and security agencies. Dignitaries present at the event included the Country Director of the United Kingdom (UK) Department for International Development (DFID) in Ghana, Mr Philip Smith, the Country Representative of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Ghana, Dr. Owen Kaluwa, and the Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Mental Health Authority (MHA).
The Executive Director of BasicNeeds-Ghana, Peter Badimak Yaro, in his welcome remarks, acknowledged the support of UK aid in developing Ghana’s mental health system. He entreated the audience to actively engage in the ongoing discussion to eliminate the stigma around suicide and add their voices to the call for the de-criminalisation of suicide in Ghana. The DFID Country Director reaffirmed the UK Government’s commitment towards the promotion and investment in the health, welfare and well-being of people with mental health conditions in Ghana. He said that the UK Government’s commitment towards mental health development was in acknowledgement of the fact that there could not be total health without mental health. The Country Representative of the WHO in Ghana, Dr Owen Kaluwa, said that “suicide is a serious public health problem; however, suicides are preventable with timely, evidence-based and often low-cost interventions.” He, therefore, recommended for a multisectoral suicide prevention strategy to ensure the effectiveness of Ghana’s national response in tackling the problem.
The panellists, namely Prof. Joseph Bediako Asare, Dr Augustina Naami, and Mr Patrick Kwabena Stephenson, discussed topics around suicide in Ghana and mental health in general in Ghana; disability, gender and social inclusion; communicating suicide and mental health; sustainable financing of mental health care in Ghana.
Prof J. B. Asare, a consultant psychiatrist and the first discussant, spoke on what the suicide situation in Ghana is like, response to suicide issues and available support to survivors. He delved into the structure and organisation of mental health care in Ghana and the policy and legislation(s) underpinning the development of mental health care in the country, including financing.
Dr Augustina Naami, a lecturer at the Department of Social Work at the University of Ghana was the second discussant. She spoke on gender and social inclusion and how the participation of persons with disability and lived experiences can be maximised. She articulated the personal experience(s) of persons with psychosocial disabilities and disability in general, as well as shared her perspectives on good best practices/ models that could enhance gender and social inclusion.
The third discussant, Patrick Kwabena Stephenson, an Economic consultant and Financial Journalist, shared his perspectives on positioning mental health in public discourse, the role of the youth in supporting development and promotion of mental health and about sustainable financing of mental health in Ghana.
Elsewhere in the regions, community activities covered neighbourhoods, schools and markets. Four community durbars were held in 4 locations across four regions namely Sumbrungu near Bolgatanga in the Upper East Region, Nadowli in the Upper West Region, Sunyani in the Bono (Brong Ahafo) Region and Tamale in the Northern Region. The Centre for People's Empowerment and Rights Initiatives (CPRI) and MIHOSO International Foundation, both region conveners of the Mental Health Alliance led the implementation of the community durbars in the Upper West Region and the Bono Region. The celebration was also heavily followed on social media -- twitter, facebook and instagram with the hashtag #40Seconds, #WMHD2019, #SuicidePrevention among others.
In what has become customary of BasicNeeds-Ghana, a ‘What-Do-You-Know’ quiz competition was held on Sunday, October 13, to climax the weeklong celebration. The quiz programme was broadcast live on GTV and GBC regional stations. Five contestants participated in the quiz answering questions on suicide and mental health, existing health policies and legislations and actors in mental health in Ghana and widely. The keenly contested quiz saw the emergence of Amidu Fuseini as the winner. Prizes were presented to the winning and contesting members. The quiz was graced by the CEO of the Mental Health Authority of Ghana, and officials of the DFID and the WHO, as well as members of SHGs in Accra.