March 4, 2013

Addressing Mental Health Issues Around the World

Maureen Canavan,
Associate Research Scientist

Recruitment and Retention of Mental Health Workers in Ghana published in the February 28, 2013 issue of PLoS, once again brings attention to challenges that face health care systems to provide quality care for mental health patients around the world.  Although this particular study was conducted in Ghana – which has an estimated 2.8 million residents with mental health problems, the struggles this country experiences are indicative to challenges also present in other countries.

In the United States, the wave of school shootings has heightened the already existing political and medical battle on how to address and treat those suffering with mental illness. Yet, discussion surrounding building an effective workforce in this area of health care is still at a minimum. More than other areas of medicine, mental health care relies on trained workers rather than technology and tools. This is why GHLI researchers chose to interview mental health workers in Ghana to help determine factors that motivate this workforce. With only 11 psychiatrists serving a population of 25 million people, psychiatric nurses preform most of the direct mental health care.

From our interviews we learned what motivates these workers and what discourages them in the workforce. Motivating patterns include a desire to help patients who are in need, positive daily interactions with patients, intellectual interest in psychiatry or behavior and good relationships with colleagues. Many interviewees also noted being drawn to mental health because of the close bond between workers in this field of health care.  Workers were discouraged by a lack of resources at the hospital, a rigid supervisory hierarchy, lack of feedback on work performance and few opportunities for career advancement within mental health.  

We found that strengthening interpersonal and team dynamics may be a critical and cost effective way to increase worker motivation and ultimately strengthen the mental health care system.

Overall, its seems that whether in Ghana or at any other health care facility dealing with mental illness issues, relationships may be integral to the retention and performance of staff– a key factor in the ultimate success of treatment for mental health patients.  

To read Recruitment and Retention of Mental Health Workers in Ghana, click here


  1. Dr. Canavan recently presented further research on our work regarding mental health and unemployment in Ghana at the Global Health and Innovation Conference.

    Using a nationally representative sample of Ghanaian adults we found that elevated psychological distress was significantly related to an individual’s likelihood of being unemployed. Additionally, when we extend to the entire population, we also saw lost productivity (from excess unemployment or excess absence from work) for individuals with moderate or severe psychological distress could affect nearly 550,000 adults in Ghana and this lost productivity associated with moderate or severe distress translates to approximately 7% of the gross domestic product of Ghana.

    Please visit to read this paper.

    Elizabeth Bradley, Ph.D.
    Faculty Director, GHLI/GHI

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