It takes some grace and high level of inner strength to be able to bounce back after experiencing serious mental distresses. The carefree lifestyle when manic, anxious or depressed takes so much from you. People are barely able to recognize themselves when experiencing such.
Personally, it had to take a total breakdown before seeking professional help. This was after years of dealing with anxiety and depression from Senior High School to University. I visited the Psychiatry department at Bono Regional hospital, spoke to a nurse and was directed to a Psychologist’s office. There, I narrated my ordeal, filled out some questionnaires and was later diagnosed with high levels depression and anxiety with relatively low schizophrenia.
Prior to taking this step, it had become difficult keeping myself in control as I broke stuff; skipped exams; took silly risks, et al. My parents literally didn’t know what to do with me. My dad would suggest seeing pastors(Of course, I never honored that idea. Lol) and mum would sneak to check if I wasn’t engaging anything out of the ordinary.
Rejecting medications and sticking only to psychotherapy, it took about 3 months for me to be guided back to normalcy. The psychologist introduced me to basic relaxation exercises to fight my anxiety. The traumatic childhood experiences that served as root causes of my distress were identified. With guidance from the psychologist, I was able to trivialize them. As I gradually unlearn the self-abusive and sabotaging tendencies adopted during the hay days of my ordeal, I am also learning to be kind and soft on myself. My resolve to visit a psychologist will forever be one of my best decision made.
There is scarce reliable data regarding the prevalence of mental distresses in Ghana. However, World Health Organization (WHO) in 2007 estimated that approximately 13% of the population in Ghana suffer from a mental disorder, of which 3% suffer from a severe mental disorder and the other 10% suffer from a moderate to mild mental disorder. By inference, the estimated 31 million population in Ghana is likely to have about 3.1 million people with mental distress-mild, moderate and severe.
As calls for investment by government into Mental health services and General health services delivery continues, it is worth noting that how mental health is framed in the media plays a major role in shaping perspective on it. Frames manifest themselves through framing devices – various text attributes such as keywords, stereotypical portraits, stock phrases, or other thematically reinforced clusters of facts or judgments (Entman, 1993).
The role of the media in shaping public perceptions and opinions about significant political and social issues has long been the subject of much speculation and debate (Maeroff, 1998; Spitzer, 1993; Wilson & Wilson, 2001; Wimmer and Dominick, 1991). With exception of first-hand experiences, people’s thoughts, knowledge and beliefs about happenings in the world is shaped by how these events are reported and discussed in the media (television, radio, films, documentaries, newspapers, social media).
Perspectives and emotions elicited as a result of media framing in turn affects whether people living with mild symptoms of mental distresses will voluntarily seek professional help or resort to other coping mechanisms. Chisholm et al., 2016 posits that, even though some mental health concerns are highly manageable, people with symptoms of mental illness tend to avoid help-seeking, as mental health discourse is associated with stigma and lack of awareness.
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It is therefore important for media practitioners, partners and allies in the discussions of mental health-related issues to affirm and speak up objectively with evidence. Incorporated in this approach should be communications that motivate people with symptoms to seek professional help. i.e communications that focuses on wellbeing and not the illness. Other angles that need to be focused on are prevention, social determinants, and the inward strengths of people with symptoms of distresses.
Also for mental health advocates, it is important to go beyond words and influence policy decisions. To bring about cultural change into a rigid conservative system like Ghana’s, it is necessary to recognize the talent of other advocates and align with them. In such a case, people who share values and possess diverse skills will be be brought together for a common goal. This will help to attract the attention of people who are interested in leadership roles and to stay close to stakeholders who are conflicted.
I believe framing and how advocacy is done may be major factors that hinder the improvement of mental health awareness and reduction of stigma.