Wednesday, October 16, 2013

World Mental Health Day

Mental Health awareness in the Upper East

Thursday the 10th of October was World Mental Health Day and this year the annual conference was held here in Ghana. However like so many other major events that come to the country, it was focused in Accra - far south of our beautiful location here in Sandema! Chelsea (a Canadian colleague of ours) and Maxwell (the CBR coordinator) would be in attendance at the conference. However all of us at the LIFE team and CBR office decided it would be positive for mental health advocacy in the Upper East region if we used this year's Ghanaian event - and indeed the worldwide celebration of mental health - to host some smaller programs here in the Builsa district.

In Scotland I worked with the Scottish Association for Mental Health who seek to promote and protect the rights of people living in Scotland who suffer from Mental Health problems. So it was decided I'd take a lead on this particular project, with support from all my wonderful colleagues! Previous teams have used radio to get across their messages and we also felt it'd be a great medium to share our thoughts and ideas with a larger (an area where 1,000,000 live!) audience. Chelsea set up a meeting with Maxwell; a DJ from the local Radio Builsa and we went along to meet him on Wednesday the 9th. We went through some questions and statements that we could discuss during our hour long slot and agreed to meet at 8pm that evening to do the show. Maxwell's fellow DJ, Victor, hosted the talk show and a lively but respectful discussion ensued.

After brief introductions on our team and project we then discussed the statistics which show that 1 in 4 people will suffer from a mental health problem at some point in their life. Ultimately meaning that it would effect everyone, no matter their nationality, beliefs or creed. Mental health has a stigma attached to it the world over and this is no less true for attitudes in Ghana. Here, there is a popular belief that some mental health conditions are contagious and we all agreed that this was an attitude we wanted to change; with some particularly passionate views being espoused from the Ghanaian hosts. We then moved on to particular types of mental illness and how we could treat them and help sufferers in our communities. Our end message was unanimous and clear: use tomorrow to give someone in your family - or wider community - your time. Time to listen, time to understand and time to help in whatever way you can. Victor ended by saying the only thing that was contagious was smiling and happiness; asking listeners to take that forward not just tomorrow but through the rest of their lives. We took some positive calls from listeners and called it a night after what we felt was a very successful evening.

The next day we moved on with the second phase of our activities, traveling to a community in South Builsa called Uwasi, where CBR had a health screening planned for the children at the school there. We decided it would be good to give a further talk there and turn the screening in to a community event where we could have a open forum on mental health. This time we were joined by a psychiatric nurse from the local hospital who spoke at length on issues surrounding mental health and alcoholism. Then Paul, who is the mental health officer with CBR, kindly translated our talk for the day: repeating our messages from yesterdays radio show. Paul then gave a speech talking about how important it was for people who suffer from mental health issues to be accepted by their communities but equally that they themselves are open about their issues and seek the help which is available to them at little or no cost from CBR and the local hospital.

All in all we feel that we had a highly successfully couple of days on this project and spoke together about how we don't want it to be a one off; making sure we reinforce our message throughout our stay here and join in with the mental health advocacy work that CBR take part in. This would start on Saturday morning with a formal introduction to the Sandema Mental Health Group!

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