Written by Marian Sakley anang
Does any Ghanaian language have a word for “depression?” It is impossible to turn on American television and not see a commercial for Cymbalta, Abilify, Zoloft. If you are new to these names, they are popular anti-depressant drugs a growing percentage of Americans just can’t seem to do without. These drugs are meant to elevate mood and boost confidence. Some call it a “happy pill.” They are known to restore chemical imbalances in the brain thus alleviate the sadness, loss of interest in daily living and sometimes suicidal thinking associated with depression. The number of people who depend on these drugs to remain “stable” is enough to shock any Ghanaian immigrant. It is not strange to go to work in the US and have a coworker who you thought was “normal,” you know clam, jovial with everybody, smart even, become unhinged and exhibit pseudo-psychotic or aggressive behavior because they forgot to take their meds that morning. Or because the one they took this morning is beginning to leave the system. You are probably thinking OMG what did I do to make them fly off the handle like that? But nooo….it has nothing to do with you. It’s that time for them to be excused, go to the car and get a fix. They come back an hour later smiling and you are like…”ok…”…until next time. Of course some people are on illicit drugs too, marijuana, and the like.
So I want to ask do Ghanaians living in Ghana get depressed too? Do we get suicidal? I mean growing up in Accra I heard of an occasional suicide here and there, but nothing compared to what I have seen in the US. Ok if we tend to be less suicidal and depressed than the average White person, why is that ? Is it because we Ghanaians have better coping skills in response to stressful situations? And please don’t tell me poverty, poor health, hunger and all the ku me preko lifestyle in Ghana doesn’t take its toll. Ghanaians have not been called magicians for nothing. We have always felt the pinch of living in a tough economy. Yet our mental health doesn’t suffer so much that we need occasional trips to the psychologist or psychiatrist. Genetics play a part in mental health too I must mention. But it is largely influenced by the environment.
Most people who end up with mental health problems have a history of sexual, physical or emotional abuse in childhood. Rape, sodomy, dysfunctional families and physical abuse at the hands of family member and strangers can create emotional and personality disorders that when left unchecked become more severe and manifest itself as psychotic behavior or “craziness” as we call it, over a period of time. Simply put, mental health degenerates if emotional problems are left unchecked. Ghanaian boys and girls are raped on daily basis. Sexual abuse and incest goes unfettered in the most conservative of Ghanaian families. We don’t like to talk about it, but we are hearing more about it every day. Where are the psychologists, the Dr, Phil’s and psychiatrists in Ghana to help this section of Ghanaians with the deal emotional issues that crop up as a result? Do they keep it under wraps well into adulthood? Do they share it with anyone? Their better halves?
At present it is reported that there are only 14 psychiatrists in Ghana in three psychiatric hospitals. Accra Psychiatric Hospital, Pantang and Ankaful in the Central Region. That is not to say people with mild emotional issues should consult a psych hospital, but how well can 14 doctors serve a population of 24 million people? Why are most Ghanaians embarrassed to talk about this? We will rather admit to having cancer and gonorrhea than admit that our mental health is challenged. Is it mentally healthy for us to keep everything bottled in the way we do? In the event that we do admit that we need help, who do we go to for the Cymbalas and Prozac’s? In Ghana if your mental health is so much as deemed unhealthy, you could be labeled “abodam” ‘seke yelo” ‘craze” and the like. Do those Ghanaians who are mentally challenged deserve that label? Or is it that you and I have better coping skills and so we haven’t found ourselves needing the help of a metal health worker--yet?