A tragic explosion that levelled the entire village of Appiatse in Ghana’s Western region in January 2022, taking the life of Grace Essien’s* husband, literally halted life as they knew it for her and their three children.
Traumatized and grieving, the 30-year-old recalls feeling like her world had ended. “That was one of the most difficult times in my life. I was so devastated that, even after a few weeks, hearing any sounds at all was just driving me crazy.”
It took six months of rigorous mental health and psychosocial support from the Psychiatric Association of Ghana in collaboration with the Pantang Hospital with support from the World Health Organization (WHO), and other stakeholders to offer Essien new hope.
“Things have changed significantly for me because of the counselling and support I received. Now I have been able to start a small business and am able to take care of my children,” Essien recounts.
The 800-strong Appiatse community was devastated by the incident when a motorcycle and a truck transporting mining explosives collided. The explosion that resulted killed at least 13 people, and injured about 200 others.
While the government of Ghana and other stakeholders mobilized to provide critical relief to the survivors, WHO, the Psychiatric Association of Ghana and the Pantang Hospital cooperated to offer mental health and psychosocial support.
“Survivors of disasters like this are at high risk of mental health disorders without urgent intervention,” notes Dr Ruth Owusu-Antwi, President of the Psychiatric Association of Ghana. “We noticed acute stress reactions, post-traumatic stress disorders, anxiety and depression among the survivors.”
WHO, with support from the United Kingdom Department of Health and Social Care, provided technical and financial support for the training of 25 psychiatrists, nurses and psychologists on the WHO mental health and psychosocial support toolkit, capacitating them to provide much-needed support.
“We are happy to have been able to play a role in supporting the Ghana government’s response efforts to bring relief to the victims of this tragedy in Appiatse,” says Prof Francis Kasolo, WHO Representative to Ghana. “This reflects WHO’s commitment to working with governments to make mental health services, a universal human right, available to all.”
Dr Joana Ansong, the Noncommunicable Diseases and Risk Factors Officer at WHO Ghana adds” “We adopted different strategies to ensure that we reached everyone who needed assistance. Our group, family and individual therapies were all vital to bringing relief to the survivors.”
This support directly impacted 250 adults and 20 children identified to have severe mental health challenges with the potential to escalate.
“This intervention came at a time that things were difficult and people became very hostile because of the trauma,” recalls Thomas Yaw Enyam, the Assembly Member for Beppo electoral area. “It has contributed a lot to our healing as a community.”
More than one year on, Appiatse is gradually being rebuilt, and survivors such as Essien are putting their lives back together and slowly moving on.
“Through the counselling sessions, I have been able to overcome some of the challenges and I am very grateful for that,” she says.
*Name has been changed to protect her identity.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of World Health Organization (WHO), Ghana.