02. Treating mental ill health - all eyes to Accra

Atta, Basic Needs Trust
Atta, Basic Needs Trust

"He tells me that he was laughed at by the community around him and even considered taking his own life'

Sitting on the edge of a self help group meeting, Atta Kwabena talks openly via a translator about his experience of suffering mental health problems in Accra, Ghana. His journey through mental illness so far has lasted twelve years. A combination of undiagnosed epilepsy and behavioural problems led to derision from others. Atta tells us that he believes that his mental ill health is attributed to the death of his twin and abandonment by his father.

Mental illness in the UK often walks hand in hand with stigmatisation but suffer from poor mental health in Ghana and you can find yourself triply disadvantaged by not only stigma but also illness and poverty. Luckily for Atta he sought help and through numerous visits across the city to a mental hospital he discovered the Basic Needs project.

The Basic Needs Trust  has a long standing relationship with Comic Relief, who have funded the the project since 2002 and their work is resulting in positive change in not only the lives of sufferers of mental illness but also in the society as a whole.

The Basic Needs unique approach is one that the UK could benefit from sitting up and paying close attention to. From a users first visit to one of the many Outreach Clinics that the Trust runs, the family and carers are also involved, receiving guidance and support in areas from understanding the specific illness to practical support. The mental illness is not treated by Basic Needs as a stand alone problem of one person but as one of a whole, taking in to account the 'bigger picture' of a person's  entire situation - including the people surrounding them.

Bernard Alando, the Trusts Knowledge and communications Officer explained to us that they believe that to just give a service user medication or a financial grant is not beneficial as stand alone help. Ongoing support to ensure that people understand their medication and it's importance in maintaining good health and financial training prior to loaning money are key to ensuring success.

On the streets of Accra there are visible signs of a real push for change to promote awareness of mental ill health, Whilst driving  we passed numerous Basic Needs signs sharing their motto:

Mental Health is a right - not a privilege

Local self help groups run regularly for those with mental health issues and provide a vital source of information and community as well as ongoing support and is run just like an AGM, with minutes from the last meeting being read and voted through in agreeance at it's commencement.Men and women join in discussions on topics that they decide are relevant, passing on their knowledge and experiences, helping each other whilst helping themselves.

above: A self help group meeting in Accra, run by Basic Needs Trust
above: A self help group meeting in Accra, run by Basic Needs Trust

Basic Needs runs rotated funding to it's project beneficiaries. Money is loaned out to a set number of users, a term of repayemnt is agreed and then once that loan is repaid the money is then used to help another beneficiary. One example is Atta (pictured below), whom expressed an interest in learning carpentry. He was supported in his desire to forge a career for himself by receiving carpentry training and finally a loan with which to buy tools.

Bernard translates for Atta, who openly discusses the support he has had through the Basic Needs Trust
Bernard translates for Atta, who openly discusses the support he has had through the Basic Needs Trust

Hearing Atta talk with extreme pride, via a translator, about the furniture that he now makes really is testament to the wonderful work that the Basic Needs Trust can do.

Such a positive and optimistic end to our visit to Accra with Comic Relief to celebrate the good work achieved in the past 25 years with the public's support - to anyone who has ever donated, thank you.

Basic Needs has currently been awarded a grant of £1,000,000 to support their work improving the lives of those with mental ill health in Ghana and Tanzania.

To find out more, please visit the Basic Needs website: www.mentalhealthanddevelopment.org