Volta Regional Hospital
I volunteered in the psychiatric units of Volta Regional Hospital and Ho Municipal Hospital. 2 psychiatric nurses gave out prescriptions and handled general work, while I "counseled" the patients, administered initial assessments, and kept records up to date. People would come in, complaining of various ailments such as headache, hot spells, hearing voices, etc, and after a psychological assessment that lasts 20 seconds, they would be given their diagnosis: "Schizophrenia" or "Depression" or "Manic Depression." Even scarier, the same drug prescription would be given to each individual: Diazepam, aka Valium. Oh, so your child doesn't want to go to school? Give her valium. You run away from home in your sleep? Valium.
taking Sister Maybelle's blood pressure
Seizures? Valium and anti-seizure meds. I'm sure 80% of these patients probably had non-mental illnesses but once they walked into our unit, they were suddenly labeled psychotic and treated with a lifelong dependency to questionable drugs.
The nurse told me that most Ghanaians do not go to the hospital for mental illnesses. They believe that mental illnesses are caused by evil spirits or karma. People exhibiting signs of mental instability were shunned from society and presumed that they did something terrible to deserve it. I'm sure many people are afraid of telling anyone about their sufferings for this reason.
Most patients visited the psych unit to refill their prescriptions. When a new patient came in, the nurses would introduce me as the "clinical psychologist" and order me to counsel him/her.
read the rules before entering
I informed the nurses that I was not a licensed psychologist, and that I only had a bachelor's degree in psychology, but they assumed since I received Western education, I knew more than anyone else. I did have experience with counseling, so I tried my best to gather information about the patient's problems and hopefully prevent the patient from an unnecessary diagnosis. However, not many Ghanaians were used to talking openly about their problems the way it is encouraged in the US. They tended to focus only on physical problems and kept personal issues to themselves. Fortunately, I did connect with several patients, and encouraged them to stay positive and suggested ways to improve their ailments. Still, some days I would feel so confused and lost when a patient with bloody stool would come in and I would be asked to "counsel" him.
Radio talk show day in Woe
"So.... how does that make you feel...?"
I didn't feel like I was offering my full potential at the hospital, so I started brainstorming how Ghanaians could benefit most from what I had to offer. I decided to put together a public speech on mental health, focusing on teaching the basics of mental health, and correcting some of the harmful assumptions of mental illness. I was invited to give a talk on a radio talk show in Woe, so I spent a weekend there doing the show. I have no idea how effective that was, but one staff member told me that people in town were talking about it.