Government must commit resources to mental health delivery to ensure convenient and effective services for those who require help.

With suicide now decriminalised, there is the need for a strategic, intentional recruitment and engagement of mental health professionals in mainstream government health agencies to provide professional and needed support for people with mental health problems who may seek help.

The National President of the Ghana Psychological Association (GPA), Dr Collins Badu Agyemang, who made the call in an interview with the Daily Graphic, said: “If the health delivery system does not promote well-being and prevent the onset of mental health challenges by engaging psychologists at the workplaces, in schools and communities, then the country may not be able to prevent people from getting into the pathways of mental health, including suicide.

“So now there must be strategic and intentional recruitment and engagement of mental health professionals in mainstream government health agencies to ensure that there are mental health professionals in all hospitals manned by government health workers,” he stressed.

He was sharing his thoughts on what had to be done to ensure that there were tangible benefits for mental health delivery now that the suicide law had been repealed.

On March 28, Parliament amended Ghana’s Criminal Offences Act 1960 and repealed the law that criminalised suicide attempt.

Until Parliament’s amendment of sections of the Criminal Offences Act on suicide, Ghana was among the 20 countries which still punished people for attempted suicide.

The repeal of the act followed years of intense advocacy from mental health experts, which received strong support with a Private Member’s Bill, sponsored by the Member of Parliament (MP) for Asante Akim Central, Kwame Anyimadu-Antwi, who is also the Chairman of the Legal, Constitutional and Parliamentary Committee of Parliament, and the Ranking Member on the committee and MP for Akatsi South, Bernard Ahiafor.

Dr Agyemang said while there were some health professionals to help deliver efficient services, there were not enough psychologists, who were the primary gatekeepers to detect the early signs and give the needed support when patients called at the hospitals.

He said although there were many well-trained psychologists, they were not employed and absorbed into the mainstream health delivery system.

“We do have some mental health nurses; we have about 70 psychiatrists in the country, but we do not have enough psychologists who are the primary gatekeepers to handle acute distress challenges people will be going through,” he explained.

The President of the GPA, therefore, called for strategic intentionality of engaging psychologists to promote well-being and prevent people from developing mental health challenges, adding that although the country did not have enough psychiatrists, the number of trained psychologists was enough to be deployed to help in the work spaces, school settings, social settings and hospitals.

Commit more resources
Dr Agyemang further said with suicide decriminalised, it meant that there should be increased and sustained funding from government commensurate with increases health seeking options that might come following the amendment of the act.

“What is the mental health budget from the government? How much is allocated to mental health in the health budget? We still have three psychiatric points in terms of spaces in Ghana, which for me are not enough. The NHIS recently indicated that it is ready to support mental health care.

“This is the time we will be interested in what extent they are going to support mental health care, and that is what we want the government to do,” he stressed.

Coordination, collaboration
The President of the GPA commended the MPs who sponsored the bill that eventually led to the amendment and emphasised that with that hurdle cleared, it was now time for the government to ensure that the right environment was provided for efficient and effective health delivery.

He also called on mental health professionals to coordinate their front, so that immediately the President signed the amended act into law, they could create that advocacy that would help Ghanaians see the benefits of having decriminalised suicide.

He emphasised that with the law now amended, it behoved all stakeholders in the mental health ecosystem to lead the charge to ensure that the right attention and holistic mental healthcare initiatives were supported.


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