Media must stop describing persons living with mental illnesses with offensive words - Psychiatrists

Accra, Oct. 05, GNA - Professor Angela Ofori Atta, the Head of the Department of Psychiatry, Korle-bu Teaching Hospital (KBTH), has advised journalists to stop using offensive words to describe persons living with mental health illnesses.







She said the use of derogatory words such as “dirty, mad, and lunatics,” had the tendency to place the already vulnerable persons in great danger, by fueling public hate, disgust and stigmatisation.

Prof. Ofori Atta gave the advice at a media training and orientation on mental health, organised by the Department of Psychiatry, as a prelude to its activities towards the annual World Mental Health Day on October 10, 2021.

She noted that the media had so much influence on public perception, hence publications in both print and electronic, whether true or not, could have serious and negative implications for the health and wellbeing of others within the society.

The training was, therefore, to create a renewed awareness among the media to become allies in the promotion of the rights of persons living with mental health illnesses and also intensify advocacy for equal attention, financial support and quality reportage like all other diseases.

Prof. Ofori-Atta said studies had shown that everyone had some risk of developing a mental health disorder no matter the age, sex, income or ethnicity, and it was estimated that globally, one out of four persons would have a form of mental health challenge in their life time.

She said despite the data showing the growing prevalence of mental health problems globally and the fact that most people with the challenge could get better when given the needed care, there had been unequal proportions in terms of focus and support.

Prof Ofori-Atta said the Department of Psychiatry, being the smallest in KBTH, offered critical services to its wide range of clients from the Plastics and Burns Centre to all the other departments of the Hospital in terms of clinical, psychotherapy, occupational therapy and counselling for a sustained healing process.

“We have at least 21 Clinical Psychologists in the KBTH, three Specialists Psychologists, several residents in training and about 67 Psychiatric nurses on our wards, to provide services for patients within the regular hospital settings,” she said.

In addition, there were a large number of Community Psychiatric nurses distributed across the regions and districts to provide support services within the health facilities, she said.

Prof Ofori-Atta said the current improvement in care showed that people with mental health challenges could receive quality care within the regular hospital settings like all other diseases and be cured completely.

She, however, complained of the limited space in its wards to accommodate more patients and called for support for expansion to enhance and sustain the quality of service delivery.

Dr Josephine Stiles Darko, a resident Psychiatrist at the KBTH, in an Overview of Mental Health, quoted the World Health Orgainsation’s definition of Mental Health as “A state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”.

She said the state of mental health could be measured based on factors, including the emotional, psychological and social well-being of an individual, with an effect on the mode of thinking, feeling, and acting, as well as determining how the persons could handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.

She mentioned some factors that could contribute to mental health as biological, involving the genes or brain chemistry; life experiences including trauma and abuse; and family history.

Dr Darko said most persons with mental health illnesses could get better and recover completely when given the required treatment and care with love.

Mr Kelvin Odonkor, a Mental Health Nurse, said the negative media publications by way of exaggeration, inaccurate descriptions, and show of comic images both virtually or in print, had impacted negatively on efforts being made to curb stigma against persons living with mental health illnesses.

He reminded journalists on the need to seek for clarification and adequate knowledge on mental health issues when reporting to protect the rights of people.

A panel discussion on “The Hidden Voice of Stigma,” later showed that most mental health patients reported to health facilities late due to stigma and myths associated with the illness.

The panelists argued that mental and physical health were equally important components of the overall health goal of Ghana, especially in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, where increases in depression posed a huge risk for many types of physical health problems.

This included long-lasting conditions like diabetes, heart diseases and stroke, he said, and called for stakeholder collaboration to address the challenges.
GNA