services in Ghana
Gain a real insight into the mental health care system
1st & 3rd Saturday
1st & 3rd Saturday
Ghana Mental Health & Psychology Experience
Our mental health and psychology experience will allow participants to see how psychiatric services operate in Ghana. By spending time shadowing and observing the mental health team, you will gain a real insight into the struggles faced and the stark contrasts of how a developing country treats their patients.
Whether you are taking your elective placement in Ghana or are a trained professional, this unique experience will provide a deeper understanding and awareness of the mental health care system. See first-hand the struggles the hospital faces with clinic and ward rounds as well as have the chance to regularly head out into the community on our home visit and outreach project.
Background to the mental health programme
Ghana’s psychiatric services stem all the way back to the early 19th century, where patients who suffered from mental health illnesses would be detained in prisons. This slowly developed into “lunatic asylums” created under the legislation that was passed in 1888.
The first purposeful psychiatric hospital was built in Ghana in 1904 with a total of 200 beds. Over the next 60 years, key plays in the Ghana mental healthcare system began to address key issues that were prevalent in the sector. Not only this, but extensive amendments were made to hospital buildings with rapid expansions in staff training and recruitment. As knowledge and understanding began to increase, patients were removed from chains and isolation and more innovative treatments started to emerge.
Despite such advances, many people still choose to practice and believe in more traditional forms of treatment. There are widespread beliefs that mental health illnesses are caused by supernatural evil forces that are best exiled by visiting shrines, herbalist centres and prayer camps.
With a population of over 26 million, it is estimated that around 2.5 million of people are currently suffering from some form of mental health illness. With only 13 practising psychiatrists in the public service and occupational therapists, social workers and CPNs all hard to come by, inadequate staffing remains a recurrent and big problem.
A recent survey conducted by The World Health Organisation stated that despite some modest achievements, the situation of mental health programmes, policies and action plan in Ghana was found to be unsatisfactory. It found that many patients were left untreated who were suffering from many different mental health issues, such as psychosis, schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, dementia and other mental related issues.
Nevertheless, government policy in the long term remains to establish and expand psychiatric facilities in all regional and district hospitals. You will now find registered mental health nurses and psychiatric nurses in many of the regional and district hospitals.
Treatments are now widely offered in areas such as occupational therapies and community outreach programmes, in line with the new mental health act that was passed in 2012. With the aim to combat the stigma and discrimination associated with mentally ill people in Ghana in a more community-based approach – this is where you and volunteers can observe and help!
Where will I be volunteering?
Dixcove Government Hospital - Nana-Hima-Dekyi Hospital (more commonly known as Dixcove Government Hospital), was constructed in 1972 by the queen mother Nana Hima Dekyi XIV to provide health care services to 'her people.' Thirteen years later in 1985, the hospital was adopted by the government to provide public health services to the Ahanta West Municipality.
Based in the coastal town of Dixcove, near the southern-most part of Ghana (Cape Three Points), the hospital is just a 15 minute drive from the volunteer accommodation.
The Community Mental Health unit comprises of three permanent registered mental health nurses and four graduate nurses on their final rotation at the unit. On an average month, the hospital will have consultations with around 300 mental health patients.
You will have the opportunity to observe consultations and ward rounds for patients being treated elsewhere within the hospital. During your time here, you may witness conditions such as depression, mania, psychosis, enuresis, migraine, epilepsy, bipolar, alcoholism, dementia and delirium.
Community home visits - Despite the hospital having a large catchment area, many of the surrounding villages are well below the poverty line. With transport costs being high and the stigma still attached to mental health illnesses, many locals choose not to attend the hospital to seek treatment from the team.
The main focus of the programme, to which locals and volunteers will benefit immensely from, is heading out to the community and carrying out home visits. There are currently five community-based health planning zones, which are visited on a regular basis. There are many activities when carrying out home visits within the surrounding communities:
- Attending and treating patients that have already requested the team’s services.
- Identifying potential patients, who, in most cases roam or isolate themselves in specific areas and enrolling them for care with the assistance of their families or local authorities.
- Checking up on patients who did not attend their scheduled appointment for whatever reason.
- Educating everyone interested about the services provided.
There are currently over 200 cases of mental health patients that require scheduled home visits, but due to the lack of funds and medicines (Antipsychotics and Anticonvulsants) there is simply not enough time nor resources to help everyone. We are hoping we can change this, with the help from you and the hospital we can ensure everyone in the community is seen and receive the treatment required.
Community outreach - On an ad hoc basis, volunteers can also help organise and run outreach programmes. This can be anything from visiting schools, churches or community gatherings with the sole purpose of educating everyone in attendance about mental health illnesses. We believe this is the best chance of breaking misconceptions and teaching everyone about available treatments and how we can help.
What is my role?
Working directly with the mental health team based at the hospital, you will spend your time shadowing and assisting the team where you can observe consultations, counselling, drug administration and more. Depending on your experience, you will have the opportunity to aid the local staff, which could include assessing patient records, evaluating signs of progress, measuring any diagnoses and prescribing any relevant medicines.
You will feel part of the team from day one, where you will get to witness varying forms of mental illnesses with the team talking through the different ways in which they take care of patients. The friendliness and willingness of the healthcare professionals, together with their high levels of English mean they are always on hand to answer any questions.
This mental health and psychology programme is only available to those already studying a mental health or psychology related degree at university or fully qualified staff.
What will a typical day look like?
You will be volunteering from Monday to Friday with your working hours depending on your placement for that day. Although these will vary day to day, you should expect to be at your placement for 2-5 hours, between 8am and 3pm. The schedule usually includes one placement per day and you will find below an example itinerary for your time in Ghana - but please note this is just a guide.
Monday - Dixcove Government Hospital clinics
Tuesday - Community home visits
Wednesday - Dixcove Government Hospital clinics
Thursday - Community home visits
Friday- Dixcove Government Hospital clinics
As Ghana is a developing country, the facilities and services can sometimes reflect this. Please be aware that from time to time factors outside of our control may limit the project and schedule availability. Anything from doctor strikes, holidays, lack of drugs and limited funding can affect the programme and we will do our best to arrange alternative activities.
Once you have finished your placement for the day, all volunteers (across all programmes) always meet at the beach, where there are plenty of things for everyone to see and do. Every evening you will find many of the children come and find you and the other volunteers to play.
Transport to and from the hospital is not included within the programme fee but is arranged by our local team and carried out by a private car. The journey takes around 15 minutes and you should budget around £2/£3 per day.
Where will I be staying?
Ghana is one of the most secure and friendly destinations where you can relax, get to know the locals and explore this beautiful country at your leisure. You will be staying within our volunteer accommodation that is nestled up in the hills overlooking the small village of Busua. Offering far-reaching views out across the sea and surrounded by palm trees, this quiet spot is the perfect place to call home.
The small village community of Busua (where everyone knows everyone) will welcome you with open arms and you will be made to feel like a local from day one. Most of your time will be spent on the picturesque beach, that offers golden white sands with palm trees lined along the whole bay. An up and coming tourist hotspot for surfers, you will be able to cool down in the blue waters of the Atlantic and even try your hand at surfing. During your free time you can laze in one of the many hammocks, relax in one of the several beach bars and restaurants, join in with a game of football with the children, play drums around the bonfire or go for a swim at the local hotel.
Other things to consider
Level of involvement - Although your role at the hospitals is largely observational, the majority of volunteers are assigned basic hands-on tasks. Please note we cannot guarantee your level of hands-on involvement and this will be at the sole discretion of your supervisor in-country and based on experience, duration and willingness to get involved.
Trained professionals - We welcome trained and qualified professionals to come and assist on our medical programme in Ghana. Once you have confirmed your placement we will be in contact to confirm credentials and work out your placement schedule.
Top returning destination - Ghana is our top destination for volunteers returning to help again in the future. We believe this is due to the amazing village of Busua and the local community that live there. Situated on the most stunning beach, the community will ensure you feel at home from day one. On top of this, the feedback provided by volunteers suggests that Ghana offers some of the most rewarding and worthwhile volunteer projects, where you can make a real positive difference.
Helping on multiple projects - Whilst in Ghana, you will also have the opportunity to assist with our teaching and childcare programmes for no additional costs. All of our programmes in Ghana are located in the same village.
Weekends and free time - You will have every weekend off from volunteering and this is the perfect time to explore everything this beautiful country has to offer. You are more than welcome to simply relax around the accommodation and enjoy the nearby beaches, but most volunteers will use this time to travel and see the country. Further down this page you will come across many suggestions and ideas on where you could go. Alternatively, if you are looking to see as much of the country as possible during this time, travel with other volunteers and be accompanied by one of our local team members, then you may be interested in one or more of the organised weekend trips we run.
Being able to be truly involved within the community and assisting the local mental health team was simply out of this world. I highly recommend this project for all students looking for experience.