Ghana faces enormous mental health challenges, including lack of mental health professionals and clinical infrastructure, poor or inconsistent access to medication, and pervasive societal stigma around mental illness. Ghanaians with mental illness often go undiagnosed, untreated, or chained and confined for weeks, months or years at a time at prayer camps.
Locally, no one advocates for the continuation of abusive practices; stakeholders from all sectors including government, academia, commerce, and healthcare are concerned about human rights violations. Religious leaders, traditional healers, and those who operate prayer camps that engage in these controversial practices have expressed openness and willingness to explore more humane approaches. They need alternative tools.
Although underdeveloped in mental health care, Ghana is remarkably advanced in telecommunications. Ghana was one of first countries in Africa to have access to the internet and a mobile cellular network. This infrastructure has grown dramatically over the years and is quite robust today. Mobile technologies are ubiquitous. Multiple telecommunication companies compete to offer Ghanaians affordable data plans and devices. Mobile phones and strong 3G wireless networks are accessible in much of the country. It is exactly the type of context where innovative mobile health (mHealth) approaches could help address significant unmet public mental health needs.
Our team at the University of Washington is working with diverse stakeholders in the region (government officials, clinicians, NGOs, traditional and faith healers, people with mental illness and their communities) to develop mobile tools that leverage multi-media resources (video, audio) to combat stigma, introduce principles of humane care, and alternative strategies for psychosocial management of mental illness.