Psychiatry in Ghana is neglected in health care and research

Psychiatry in Ghana is neglected in health care and research. In 1972 Adomakoh proclaimed in this journal ‘There is a dearth of detailed knowledge of psychiatric illness in this country’.1 Nearly 40 years later the research record has expanded, but accurate data on epidemiology, treatment and outcomes is still sorely needed. In the absence of reliable evidence, the gaps are filled by data extrapolated from international research, “guesstimates”, and anecdotal evidence.
The first study of mental illness in the then Gold Coast was commissioned by the Colonial Office to study ‘the forms of neurosis and psychosis among West Africans’. Four hundred cases of mental disorder were identified with the help of census enumerators and chiefs.2 This was followed in the 1950s by ethnographic research of people with mental disorder attending rural shrines.3 Following independence and the training of Ghanaian psychiatrists, local psychiatrists began to publish clinically-based research. However with limited resources and research expertise, the studies were small and output was limited. This situation has persisted until recently. The majority of research in mental health has been undertaken by the country’s few psychiatrists, occasionally assisted by expatriate researchers or clinicians and has remained small in scale.
Recently a new impetus for mental health in Ghana has seen the establishment of mental health NGOs, the drafting of a new mental health bill, increased training for psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses, proposals for training new cadres of primary health care specialists in mental health, and increased media attention. There has also been an increase in the number of research projects and publications on mental health from a diversity of disciplines including psychology, sociology and anthropology.
The Kintampo Health Research Centre has supported studies of risk factors for psychosis, me