Mr Stavros Lambrinidis, European Union Special Representative on Human Rights, as part of activities marking his visit to Ghana, paid a field visit to Pillar two communities in James Town on 5 July 2017, to interact with a self-help group comprising persons with mental health challenges.
The purpose of the visit was to learn from their experience of coping with their situation within the society and to motivate and encourage them in their efforts to realise their human potential.
The Group is being supported by Basic Needs Ghana, which has been funded by the European Union a couple of years ago under the thematic budget lines. They are currently receiving funded support by UKAid, which has enabled them to sustain their support to persons with mental health challenges.
The chairman of the Pillar 2 group at James Town, Abraham Kwame Nkrumah, said stigmatisation of people with mental illness was very high among the community and that most of them were shunned even by their family members and are marginalised economically and socially within the community. As a result, the group embarks on periodic sensitisation programmes at churches, markets, and surrounding communities with the aim to change their perceptions and to provide information about mental illness such as epilepsy, psychosis, schizophrenia and depression and how they can be managed.
The role of the group he noted was to sensitize people and create awareness about the fact that mental illnesses are not contagious. The overall aim of the sensitisation drive is also to encourage those whose relatives have mental health challenges to come out and seek medical care for them and not to hide them or abandon them to their fate.
The group consist of about 100 patients and care-givers who meet regularly to share information, provide peer support and counselling, assist members with financial support in their businesses and link them to health centres to enable them to assess medication for their challenge. Those without jobs are provided with skills and equipment to start their own small scale businesses especially the artisans and traders among them. The financial support to members is so critical as it enables to bear the cost of medication for their health conditions.
They have received training and support from organisation like Basic Needs and they also have support from the District Assemblies Common Fund allocated to disabilities which is inadequate to cater for all the patients. They shared their personal experiences and those of their relatives.
Mr Lambrinidis thanked the group for the important initiative made by members of the group to support each other but also educating communities about mental health and disabusing the mind of people about the negative prejudices associated with mental health. He commended them for giving human dignity back to the people who suffer mental illnesses and described them as "heroes" championing the cause of society, something that others will not want to do. "I want to raise this awareness about what you do here for the mentally ill patients and I want you to know that we support what you do and the world also support you in what you do". He concluded.