When Cynthia Adjei* had an episode of an acute mental health condition in her junior high school in 2021, she was greeted with derision. This led to a deep depression that threatened her future education as she couldn’t bear to face her fellow pupils.
“I never wanted to go back to school because I felt that everyone was staring at me and making comments as I passed by,” the now 18-year-old teen recalls. “All I could imagine was people talking about me, and laughing.”
It took weeks of mental health and psychosocial support from Abraham Owusu, a teacher in the Berekum Municipality in Ghana, to help get Adjei to a point where she would even consider the possibility of returning to her studies.
“When I intervened, it was tough at the beginning. She didn’t want to open up and wouldn’t even consider going back to school,” says Owusu. “I stepped in to provide counselling for her and her parents, making daily visits to their home before I started seeing the beginnings of a breakthrough.”
In 2022, Owusu was one of 394 teachers and other professionals who benefited from mental health and psychosocial support training from the Ghana Health Service, with assistance from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Kingdom Department of Health and Social Care.
“The mental health and supportive communication skills I learned empowered me to better understand and respond to the needs of children,” Owusu explains.
The intervention was aimed at equipping the professionals with the skills to identify mental health challenges and to be able to provide basic mental health and psychosocial support.
“This collaboration with WHO reflects our shared ambition to decentralize mental health care to ensure that these services and support are available to all,” says Dr Amma Boadu, Deputy Director for Mental Health at the Ghana Health Service.
Globally, it is estimated that 14% of 10 to 19-year-olds experience mental health challenges, with many going unrecognized and so untreated.
Ghana, with support from WHO and other partners, conducted the Global School-based Student Health Survey conducted in Sekondi-Takoradi in 2022. Funded by the Botnar Foundation, it revealed significant mental health challenges among adolescents, with a quarter of the students surveyed reporting that they had attempted suicide.
“It is our hope that with this capacity, more teachers like Mr Owusu will help us turn around the disturbing trend of mental health challenges among young people,” notes Dr Francis Kasolo, WHO Representative to Ghana.
Owusu has also shared his new knowledge with 412 teachers and 77 other stakeholders to broaden the support base for children in need in the Berekum Municipality.
Today, Adjei has successfully completed junior high school and is pursuing her dream of studying arts in one of Ghana’s best senior high schools.
“I am so grateful that Mr Owusu was around to help me get through that very difficult time, which could otherwise have destroyed my life,” she says.
* Name has been changed to protect her identity.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of World Health Organization (WHO), Ghana.