Ahassan Shaibu (not his real name) is an 11-year-old boy who resides in the Tamale Metropolis. He suffers from attention deficit\ hyperactivity disorders, a medical condition, which affects children’s abilities to concentrate effectively.
While his other three siblings are in school, Shaibu stays at home because of his medical condition. This development is not different from Nakoja Yajah, a 15-year-old victim of autism spectrum disorder, resident in the Saboba District of the Northern Region.
He is also not in school because of lack of special units for children with mental health disorders in the area.
The 1992 Constitution of Ghana makes provision for all persons to have equal educational opportunities and facilities. Most children with mental health disorders, especially in the Northern Region, have been starved of this important constitutional provision.
One could either see such children loitering around in their neighbourhood or in some instances denied space in the open.
When the Ghana News Agency visited Dakpema M/A Primary School, Special Unit Block “B” in Tamale, authorities said sometimes they had to pressure parents to bring their children with mental illness to school.
Mrs Yeiseh Christiana, the Headmistress of the Unit, said most parents and guardians did not see the need to enrol their children with special needs and the few, who brought the children to school, often abandoned them without providing their needs.
“At times, the teachers have to contribute money to buy food for them because there is no feeding plan for them. The parents simply don’t care,” she said.
Madam Abibata Mahamang, a 65-year-old grandmother of a mentally ill child in the Yendi Municipality, said the lack of facilities for children with mental health disorders was her primary concern.
Mental Health Disorders in Children
These refer to some form of delays or disruptions that affect the development of age-appropriate thinking, behaviours, social skills or regulations of emotions.
These include eating, anxiety, attention deficit/hyperactivity, and autism spectrum disorders.
Dr Frank Hill Koomson, the Head of the Psychiatry Unit, Tamale Teaching Hospital, said children with mental health disorders might demonstrate some extreme difficulty of concentration coupled with severe mood swings.
Such children could learn to live independently if provided with the necessary support, he said.
He cautioned against insensitive descriptions of these children such as mad, crazy, and moron adding that these are medical conditions that are treatable and manageable.
Statistics of Mental Health Cases among Children
Whilst the northern sector still awaits its share of a psychiatric hospital under the Government’s Agenda 111 Project, other psychiatric hospitals located in the south are recording surging cases of children with mental illness.
Data available at the Pantang Psychiatric Hospital indicates that between 2017 to 2019, an estimated 1,419 children reported with various mental health conditions. Similarly, between 2015 – 2020, the Accra Psychiatric Hospital recorded 13,731 cases of children with mental health disorders.
Constitutional Provisions and Legislations
The 1992 Constitution says every child has the right to life, dignity, respect, leisure, liberty, health, education and shelter.
Meanwhile, in 2012, Ghana passed a Mental Health Act (Act 846), which makes provision for the health care of persons with mental illness mandatory.
The Act stipulates that a person with mental health disorder is entitled to the same fundamental rights as a fellow citizen. Unfortunately, successive governments have not shown enough commitment towards the implementation of the various policies that guarantee the well-being of persons with mental illnesses.
Advocacy and Sensitisation
Mr Stephen Kwame Asante, the Executive Director of Mental Health Advocacy Foundation, said the alarming rate of mental disorders among children called for more awareness creation, advocacy and sensitisation to address some misconceptions surrounding mental illnesses.
He said most people, especially in the rural areas, were not well informed about mental health, hence the cases of abuse and neglect.
The Way Forward
There is the need for the Government to increase budgetary allocation to the mental health sector to ensure the provision of facilities and services as the 1.4 per cent allocation for 2022 was woefully inadequate.
Enforcement of the 2012 Mental Health Act, (Act 846) must be stepped up to enhance access to quality education by children with mental health conditions, without any form of discrimination and stigmatisation.
Government must also strive to launch an advocacy and sensitisation campaign, especially in the rural communities, to address misconceptions associated with mental health disorders among children, while providing educational facilities to ensure their rights to education are not compromised.