August 16, 2012

Update from Ghana

Micah Johnson
2012 GHLI Fellow

Much of my work this summer centered around Ghana’s newly passed Mental Health Act. I was honored to be invited to give a presentation on the law at the University of Ghana Medical School, Department of Psychiatry, which provided a great opportunity for me to step back and reflect on the piece of legislation that forms the core of the mental health reform effort in Ghana. In addition to distilling the law into its main themes, I attempted to spark a realistic discussion of the challenges that remain in implementing the law. For instance, the question of funding for mental health is still largely unresolved. The law establishes a Mental Health Fund, but it is up to Parliament and other bodies to identify and secure ongoing sources of money that can be paid into the fund. Without these and other crucial next steps, the law may largely remain an empty promise.

The most interesting part of the presentation for me was a follow-up discussion with the master’s students in clinical psychology. They had an especially sharp eye toward the challenges of implementation. For instance, one provision in the law states that involuntary admission of a person for a mental health issue requires approval by court order before taking the person to a hospital. But a student from the Northern Region of Ghana made a simple observation—his district doesn’t even have a court or a hospital! This point and the rest of our discussion reinforced an important theme from the summer: passing the law was a great victory for mental health in Ghana, but it really only lays the groundwork for further efforts that will be necessary to truly effect change.

It’s a privilege to have been involved in this work, and I hope the progress that has been made so far will only be the beginning of a true transformation of mental health care in Ghana.

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