Parents who wake their children up early in order to beat traffic and get to school early may be exposing the children to mental illness, the acting Director of the Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital, Dr Kwadwo Marfo Obeng, has warned.

He said today’s work demands on parents and the practice of moving children in and out of school, with little family engagement, were exposing children to stress and vulnerability to drug abuse.

Speaking to the Daily Graphic on the sidelines of the launch of the Mental Health Day in Accra yesterday, he said the developments were catalysts for mental illness.

“Children are going to school far away from where they live, which means the amount of time spent at home is very small. Typically they leave home about 4.30 a.m. and rush through getting to school.

“The children get to school an hour or two before school opens and they loiter around, doing God knows what. Such children are at the risk of taking some of these illegal substances because within that period they can easily be preyed upon,” he said.

Mental Health Day

The World Mental Health Day is celebrated on October 10, every year.

The World Federation for Mental Health created the day 24 years ago as a global platform for all nations to create awareness of mental health and issues associated with mental illness.

This year’s event is on the theme: “Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World”.

This year’s event will be crowned with a public lecture on mental health at the Ebenezer Presbyterian Church Hall at Osu in Accra.

Worrying figures

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), half of all mental illnesses began by age 14 and worldwide 10-20 per cent of children and adolescents suffered from mental disorders.

The organisation also lists depression as the third leading cause of mental illness and disability among adolescents globally, while suicide is the second leading cause of deaths among 15-29-year-olds.

With those figures probably in mind, Dr Obeng said it was time to open a discussion on when children should even report for school.

Besides, he said, parents should consider the critical issues of where they lived in relation to where they should work, and where they lived in relation to where their children should go to school.

No interaction

“The kind of interaction some of us had is now missing in most families, particularly in urban areas. Children are not getting time to know their parents and parents are not knowing their children. Often when we have patients and we ask how long they have been using the (illegal) substance, parents are surprised.

This is because they don’t have time to know their children,” he said.

In an age of Internet usage and a booming online betting industry in Ghana that was largely unregulated, Dr Obeng said the “whole environment for children right now is extremely toxic and we need to do something about it”.

“These are not things that the psychiatric hospital has control over,” he stated.

Potential dangers

Meanwhile, the WHO is also raising red flags about the potential dangers of mental illness during adolescence and the early years of adulthood.

“Adolescence and the early years of adulthood are a time of change, moving schools, leaving home and starting work. For many, these can be times of stress and anxiety; these feelings can lead to serious mental illness if they are not recognised and managed in time,” the Country Representative of the WHO, Dr Owen Kaluwa, said at the event.

Statistics from the WHO indicate that in Africa about five per cent of the population aged below 15 years suffers from mental disorder.

However, Dr Kaluwa said most cases went undetected and untreated, with serious long-term consequences for mental health.

“In today’s changing world, expanding online technologies undoubtedly bring many benefits, but can also exert additional pressure when people feel the need to be constantly connected,” he said.

He observed that although African countries were making progress, much more needed to be done to build mental resilience from an early age to help prevent mental distress and illness among adolescents and young adults and to manage recovery.

Funding constraints

At yesterday’s event, funding constraints for mental health in Ghana came up strongly, with stakeholders lamenting the low investment in an area where the Mental Health Authority last year said about four million Ghanaians were suffering from mild mental illness.

The Director of the Accra Psychiatric Hospital, Dr Pinaman Appau, who launched this year’s celebrations, said while, admittedly, economies around the world were tightening up, fixing the mental challenge should not be at the expense of the quality of life of people.

“Our conscience as a people is shown in how we treat the people who walk naked on our streets, eating and drinking what they can manage to find in gutters; our conscience as a people is depicted in how we lash out at the people whose body stench we cannot stand because they have lost the ability to take good care of themselves.

“Our conscience as a people is reflected in how we house and care for the mentally ill in our communities and institutions; our conscience as a people is revealed in how we invest and provide for the vulnerable in our society who are unable to make good decisions for themselves,” she said.

She said most of the psychiatric hospitals, including the Accra Psychiatric Hospital, were struggling to survive on low funding.

As a result, mentally ill people were increasing on the streets of Accra because patients were being asked to contribute to their care.

Mental Health Fund

“The subvention being given us is not enough to run the facilities. The patients are now paying a little to support themselves.

“Where they are unable to afford the money, they don’t come to the facilities at all. A lot of our patients are now being found on the streets and they are increasing,” she said.

She said stakeholders were awaiting the establishment of the Mental Health Fund to ensure sustainable funding for mental health treatment.